Lifestyle, Uncategorized

The Art of Stillness

theartofstillness

The Art of Stillness

In a world obsessed with speed and rife with distractions, there are few things that feel better than sitting still, paying attention — and going nowhere. A celebrated travel writer explains how to get there.

 

When I was 29, I had the life I always dreamed of as a boy: a 25th-floor office in Midtown Manhattan, an apartment on Park Avenue and 20th Street, and an endlessly fascinating job. Writing for Time magazine, I covered the fall of apartheid in South Africa, the People Power Revolution of the Philippines, and the turmoil around Indira Gandhi’s assassination. With no dependents or domestic responsibilities, I took long vacations, traveling everywhere from El Salvador to Bali.

 

In the midst of all the daily excitement and accomplishment, however, was a voice inside telling me that I was racing around too fast to really see or enjoy where I was going — or to check whether I was truly happy.

 

Indeed, hurrying around in search of contentment seemed a perfect way of guaranteeing I’d never find it. Too often, I reminded myself of someone going on and on about world peace in the most contentious and divisive terms.

 

So I decided to leave my dream life and spend a year in a small, single room on the backstreets of the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto. At the time I couldn’t have explained exactly why I was doing this, except that I felt I had enjoyed a wonderful diet of movement and stimulation in New York, and it was time to balance that with something simpler. It was time to learn how to make these joys less external and ephemeral and to learn the art of sitting still.

 

Going nowhere — as my boyhood hero, singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, would later tell me — isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so you can see it more clearly and love it more deeply. These four practices can help you experience more quiet in your daily life, no matter where you are.

 

BE FOR REAL

One day — 4 in the morning at the end of December, to be exact — Cohen took time out from his meditations to meet me for an interview and talk about what he was doing at the Mt. Baldy Zen Center near Los Angeles.

 

Sitting still, he said with unexpected passion, was “the real deep entertainment” he had found in his 61 years on the planet. “Real profound and voluptuous and delicious entertainment. The real feast that is available within this activity.”

 

Was he kidding? Cohen is famous for his mischief and ironies. But as he went on, I realized he wasn’t joking.

 

“What else would I be doing?” he asked. “Would I be starting a new marriage with a young woman and raising another family? Finding new drugs, buying more expensive wine? I don’t know. This seems to me the most luxurious and sumptuous response to the emptiness of my own existence.”

 

As I observed the sense of attention, kindness, and even delight that seemed to come out of Cohen’s life of going nowhere, I began to think about how liberating it might be for any of us to practice sitting still — clearing our heads and quieting our emotions.

 

You could start just by taking a few minutes out of every day to sit quietly and do nothing, letting what moves you rise to the surface. You could enjoy a long walk in the wilderness, or take a few days out of every season to go on retreat, exploring what lies deeper within the moment or yourself.

 

You could, as Cohen was doing, try to find a life in which stage sets and performances disappear and be reminded, at a level deeper than all words, about how making a living and making a life sometimes point in opposite directions.

 

TAKE THE ROAD TO NOWHERE

The idea of going nowhere is as universal as the law of gravity. “All the unhappiness of men,” the 17th-century French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal famously noted, “arises from one simple fact: that they cannot sit quietly in their chamber.”

 

After Admiral Richard E. Byrd spent nearly five months alone in a shack in the Antarctic, in temperatures that sank to 70 degrees below zero, he emerged convinced that “half the confusion in the world comes from not knowing how little we need.”

 

Or, as they sometimes say around Kyoto, “Don’t just do something. Sit there.”

 

Yet the world in which Pascal and even Admiral Byrd lived seems positively tranquil by today’s standards. The amount of data humanity collects while you’re reading a book is five times greater than the amount that exists in the entire Library of Congress. Anyone reading my full book, The Art of Stillness, will take in as much information today as Shakespeare took in during his lifetime. Researchers in the field of interruption science have found that it takes an average of 25 minutes to recover from a phone call. Yet such interruptions come every 11 minutes, on average — which means we’re never caught up with our lives.

 

So the more data that comes streaming in on us, the less time we have to process any of it.

 

The one thing technology doesn’t provide is a sense of how to make the best use of it. The ability to gather information, which used to be so crucial, is far less important now than the ability to sift through it.

 

It’s easy to feel as if you’re standing 2 inches away from a huge canvas that’s crowded and changing every microsecond. It’s only by stepping back and standing still that you can begin to take in the larger picture and see what that canvas — which is your life — really means.

 

UNPLUG AND RECHARGE

I’ve always been surprised to find that the people who have worked to speed up the world are often the same ones most sensitive to the virtue of slowing down.

 

One day I visited Library of Congress headquarters to give a talk on the Dalai Lama book I’d written and, like most visitors, I was impressed by the trampolines, the indoor tree houses, and the freedom that workers had to let their minds wander off leash to wherever inspiration might be hiding.

 

Many Silicon Valley employees observe an Internet Sabbath every week, turning off most of their devices from Friday night to Monday morning, if only to regain the sense of proportion and direction they’ll need when they go back online.

 

There is now a meditation room in every building on the General Mills campus in Minneapolis. Congressman Tim Ryan leads his colleagues in sessions of sitting still, reminding them that, if nothing else, scientists have found that meditation can lower blood pressure, help boost our immune systems, and even change the architecture of our brains.

 

A growing percentage of American companies now have stress-reduction programs, and the number is increasing by the day. More than 30 percent of those enrolled in such a program at Aetna, the giant healthcare company, saw their stress levels drop by a third after only an hour of yoga each week.

 

The computer-chip maker Intel experimented with a quiet period of four hours every Tuesday, during which 300 engineers and managers were asked to turn off their email and phones and put up Do Not Disturb signs on their office doors to make space for “thinking time.” The response proved so enthusiastic that the company inaugurated an eight-week program to encourage clearer thinking.

 

After a similar seven-week program at General Mills, 80 percent of senior executives reported an improvement in their ability to make decisions, and 89 percent said they had become better listeners. Such developments are saving American corporations $300 billion a year; more important, they’re a form of preemptive medicine at a time when the World Health Organization has projected that “stress will be the health epidemic of the 21st century.”

 

It may be strange to see mind training — going nowhere, in effect — being embraced by forward-pushing organizations. And it’s true, the businesses that view mindfulness practices as opportunities for advancing their goals may simply be deploying new and imaginative means to the same un-elevated ends: searching for ways to squeeze ever more productivity from their employees.

 

To me, the point of sitting still is to help you see through the very idea of pushing forward; it leads you to a place where you’re defined by something larger. Its benefits lie within some psychological account with a high interest rate but long-term yields, to be drawn upon at the moment when a doctor walks into the room shaking his head, or another car veers in front of yours, and all you have to draw upon is the clarity and focus you’ve collected in your deeper moments.

 

KEEP THE SABBATH

The one word for which the adjective “holy” is used in the Ten Commandments is “Sabbath.” But keeping the Sabbath — doing nothing for a while — is one of the hardest things in life for me. I’d much rather give up meat or wine or sex than the option of checking my emails or getting on with my work when I want to. If I don’t answer my messages today, I tell myself, there will only be more to answer tomorrow (though, in truth, refraining from sending messages will likely diminish the number I receive). If I take time off, I somehow believe, I’ll be that much more hurried when I return to work.

 

Whenever I finally force myself away from my desk for a day, of course, I find the opposite: The more time I spend away from my work, the better the work will be.

 

One day, Mahatma Gandhi was said to have woken up and told those around him, “This is going to be a very busy day. I won’t be able to meditate for an hour.” His friends were taken aback at this rare break from his discipline. “I’ll have to meditate for two,” he explained.

 

I mentioned this once on a radio program and a woman called in, understandably impatient. “It’s all very well for a male travel writer in Santa Barbara to talk about taking time off,” she said. “But what about me? I’m a mother trying to start a small business, and I don’t have the luxury of meditating for two hours a day.”

 

Yet it’s precisely those who are busiest, I wanted to tell her, who most need to give themselves a break. Stress is contagious. If the overburdened mother could ask her spouse — or her mother or a friend — to look after her kids for 30 minutes a day, I’m sure she’d be more relaxed and have more energy and joy to share with her children (and with her business) when she came back.

 

Space, as Karl Marx explained it in another context, has been annihilated by time. This is especially true today. We feel as though we can connect with anyone, almost anywhere, at any moment. And the more we contact others, the more it seems we lose contact with ourselves.

 

When I left New York City for the backstreets of Kyoto, I figured I’d be growing poorer in terms of money, amusements, social life, and obvious prospects, but I’d be richer in what I prize most: days and hours.

 

This is what the principle of the Sabbath enshrines. It is, as the great Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel put it, “a cathedral in time rather than in space.”

 

The one day a week we take off becomes a vast empty space through which we can wander, without agenda. It’s like a retreat house that ensures we’ll have something bright and purposeful to carry back into the other six days. The Sabbath reminds us that, in the end, all our journeys have to bring us home.

 

It takes courage, of course, to step out of the fray, just as it takes courage to do anything that’s necessary, whether it’s turning away from that sugarcoated doughnut or tending to a loved one on her deathbed. And with billions of our global neighbors in crying need, with so much in every life that has to be done, it can sound selfish to take a break or go off to a quiet place. But as soon as you sit still, you find that it actually brings you closer to others, in both understanding and sympathy.

 

In any case, few of us have the chance to step out of our daily lives often, or for very long. Nowhere can become somewhere we visit in the quiet corners of our lives by just sitting quietly for 30 minutes every morning (a mere 3 percent of our waking hours). The point of gathering stillness is not to enrich the sanctuary or mountaintop but to bring that calm into the motion and commotion of the world.

 

Because, in an age of speed, nothing can be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And, in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.

 

Health and Wellness Associates

Archived

312-972-WELL

HealthWellnessAssociates@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/HealthAndWellnessAssociates/

 

 

In a world obsessed with speed and rife with distractions, there are few things that feel better than sitting still, paying attention — and going nowhere. A celebrated travel writer explains how to get there.

 

When I was 29, I had the life I always dreamed of as a boy: a 25th-floor office in Midtown Manhattan, an apartment on Park Avenue and 20th Street, and an endlessly fascinating job. Writing for Time magazine, I covered the fall of apartheid in South Africa, the People Power Revolution of the Philippines, and the turmoil around Indira Gandhi’s assassination. With no dependents or domestic responsibilities, I took long vacations, traveling everywhere from El Salvador to Bali.

 

In the midst of all the daily excitement and accomplishment, however, was a voice inside telling me that I was racing around too fast to really see or enjoy where I was going — or to check whether I was truly happy.

 

Indeed, hurrying around in search of contentment seemed a perfect way of guaranteeing I’d never find it. Too often, I reminded myself of someone going on and on about world peace in the most contentious and divisive terms.

 

So I decided to leave my dream life and spend a year in a small, single room on the backstreets of the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto. At the time I couldn’t have explained exactly why I was doing this, except that I felt I had enjoyed a wonderful diet of movement and stimulation in New York, and it was time to balance that with something simpler. It was time to learn how to make these joys less external and ephemeral and to learn the art of sitting still.

 

Going nowhere — as my boyhood hero, singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, would later tell me — isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so you can see it more clearly and love it more deeply. These four practices can help you experience more quiet in your daily life, no matter where you are.

 

BE FOR REAL

One day — 4 in the morning at the end of December, to be exact — Cohen took time out from his meditations to meet me for an interview and talk about what he was doing at the Mt. Baldy Zen Center near Los Angeles.

 

Sitting still, he said with unexpected passion, was “the real deep entertainment” he had found in his 61 years on the planet. “Real profound and voluptuous and delicious entertainment. The real feast that is available within this activity.”

 

Was he kidding? Cohen is famous for his mischief and ironies. But as he went on, I realized he wasn’t joking.

 

“What else would I be doing?” he asked. “Would I be starting a new marriage with a young woman and raising another family? Finding new drugs, buying more expensive wine? I don’t know. This seems to me the most luxurious and sumptuous response to the emptiness of my own existence.”

 

As I observed the sense of attention, kindness, and even delight that seemed to come out of Cohen’s life of going nowhere, I began to think about how liberating it might be for any of us to practice sitting still — clearing our heads and quieting our emotions.

 

You could start just by taking a few minutes out of every day to sit quietly and do nothing, letting what moves you rise to the surface. You could enjoy a long walk in the wilderness, or take a few days out of every season to go on retreat, exploring what lies deeper within the moment or yourself.

 

You could, as Cohen was doing, try to find a life in which stage sets and performances disappear and be reminded, at a level deeper than all words, about how making a living and making a life sometimes point in opposite directions.

 

TAKE THE ROAD TO NOWHERE

The idea of going nowhere is as universal as the law of gravity. “All the unhappiness of men,” the 17th-century French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal famously noted, “arises from one simple fact: that they cannot sit quietly in their chamber.”

 

After Admiral Richard E. Byrd spent nearly five months alone in a shack in the Antarctic, in temperatures that sank to 70 degrees below zero, he emerged convinced that “half the confusion in the world comes from not knowing how little we need.”

 

Or, as they sometimes say around Kyoto, “Don’t just do something. Sit there.”

 

Yet the world in which Pascal and even Admiral Byrd lived seems positively tranquil by today’s standards. The amount of data humanity collects while you’re reading a book is five times greater than the amount that exists in the entire Library of Congress. Anyone reading my full book, The Art of Stillness, will take in as much information today as Shakespeare took in during his lifetime. Researchers in the field of interruption science have found that it takes an average of 25 minutes to recover from a phone call. Yet such interruptions come every 11 minutes, on average — which means we’re never caught up with our lives.

 

So the more data that comes streaming in on us, the less time we have to process any of it.

 

The one thing technology doesn’t provide is a sense of how to make the best use of it. The ability to gather information, which used to be so crucial, is far less important now than the ability to sift through it.

 

It’s easy to feel as if you’re standing 2 inches away from a huge canvas that’s crowded and changing every microsecond. It’s only by stepping back and standing still that you can begin to take in the larger picture and see what that canvas — which is your life — really means.

 

UNPLUG AND RECHARGE

I’ve always been surprised to find that the people who have worked to speed up the world are often the same ones most sensitive to the virtue of slowing down.

 

One day I visited Library of Congress headquarters to give a talk on the Dalai Lama book I’d written and, like most visitors, I was impressed by the trampolines, the indoor tree houses, and the freedom that workers had to let their minds wander off leash to wherever inspiration might be hiding.

 

Many Silicon Valley employees observe an Internet Sabbath every week, turning off most of their devices from Friday night to Monday morning, if only to regain the sense of proportion and direction they’ll need when they go back online.

 

There is now a meditation room in every building on the General Mills campus in Minneapolis. Congressman Tim Ryan leads his colleagues in sessions of sitting still, reminding them that, if nothing else, scientists have found that meditation can lower blood pressure, help boost our immune systems, and even change the architecture of our brains.

 

A growing percentage of American companies now have stress-reduction programs, and the number is increasing by the day. More than 30 percent of those enrolled in such a program at Aetna, the giant healthcare company, saw their stress levels drop by a third after only an hour of yoga each week.

 

The computer-chip maker Intel experimented with a quiet period of four hours every Tuesday, during which 300 engineers and managers were asked to turn off their email and phones and put up Do Not Disturb signs on their office doors to make space for “thinking time.” The response proved so enthusiastic that the company inaugurated an eight-week program to encourage clearer thinking.

 

After a similar seven-week program at General Mills, 80 percent of senior executives reported an improvement in their ability to make decisions, and 89 percent said they had become better listeners. Such developments are saving American corporations $300 billion a year; more important, they’re a form of preemptive medicine at a time when the World Health Organization has projected that “stress will be the health epidemic of the 21st century.”

 

It may be strange to see mind training — going nowhere, in effect — being embraced by forward-pushing organizations. And it’s true, the businesses that view mindfulness practices as opportunities for advancing their goals may simply be deploying new and imaginative means to the same un-elevated ends: searching for ways to squeeze ever more productivity from their employees.

 

To me, the point of sitting still is to help you see through the very idea of pushing forward; it leads you to a place where you’re defined by something larger. Its benefits lie within some psychological account with a high interest rate but long-term yields, to be drawn upon at the moment when a doctor walks into the room shaking his head, or another car veers in front of yours, and all you have to draw upon is the clarity and focus you’ve collected in your deeper moments.

 

KEEP THE SABBATH

The one word for which the adjective “holy” is used in the Ten Commandments is “Sabbath.” But keeping the Sabbath — doing nothing for a while — is one of the hardest things in life for me. I’d much rather give up meat or wine or sex than the option of checking my emails or getting on with my work when I want to. If I don’t answer my messages today, I tell myself, there will only be more to answer tomorrow (though, in truth, refraining from sending messages will likely diminish the number I receive). If I take time off, I somehow believe, I’ll be that much more hurried when I return to work.

 

Whenever I finally force myself away from my desk for a day, of course, I find the opposite: The more time I spend away from my work, the better the work will be.

 

One day, Mahatma Gandhi was said to have woken up and told those around him, “This is going to be a very busy day. I won’t be able to meditate for an hour.” His friends were taken aback at this rare break from his discipline. “I’ll have to meditate for two,” he explained.

 

I mentioned this once on a radio program and a woman called in, understandably impatient. “It’s all very well for a male travel writer in Santa Barbara to talk about taking time off,” she said. “But what about me? I’m a mother trying to start a small business, and I don’t have the luxury of meditating for two hours a day.”

 

Yet it’s precisely those who are busiest, I wanted to tell her, who most need to give themselves a break. Stress is contagious. If the overburdened mother could ask her spouse — or her mother or a friend — to look after her kids for 30 minutes a day, I’m sure she’d be more relaxed and have more energy and joy to share with her children (and with her business) when she came back.

 

Space, as Karl Marx explained it in another context, has been annihilated by time. This is especially true today. We feel as though we can connect with anyone, almost anywhere, at any moment. And the more we contact others, the more it seems we lose contact with ourselves.

 

When I left New York City for the backstreets of Kyoto, I figured I’d be growing poorer in terms of money, amusements, social life, and obvious prospects, but I’d be richer in what I prize most: days and hours.

 

This is what the principle of the Sabbath enshrines. It is, as the great Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel put it, “a cathedral in time rather than in space.”

 

The one day a week we take off becomes a vast empty space through which we can wander, without agenda. It’s like a retreat house that ensures we’ll have something bright and purposeful to carry back into the other six days. The Sabbath reminds us that, in the end, all our journeys have to bring us home.

 

It takes courage, of course, to step out of the fray, just as it takes courage to do anything that’s necessary, whether it’s turning away from that sugarcoated doughnut or tending to a loved one on her deathbed. And with billions of our global neighbors in crying need, with so much in every life that has to be done, it can sound selfish to take a break or go off to a quiet place. But as soon as you sit still, you find that it actually brings you closer to others, in both understanding and sympathy.

 

In any case, few of us have the chance to step out of our daily lives often, or for very long. Nowhere can become somewhere we visit in the quiet corners of our lives by just sitting quietly for 30 minutes every morning (a mere 3 percent of our waking hours). The point of gathering stillness is not to enrich the sanctuary or mountaintop but to bring that calm into the motion and commotion of the world.

 

Because, in an age of speed, nothing can be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And, in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.

 

Health and Wellness Associates

Archived

312-972-WELL

HealthWellnessAssociates@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/HealthAndWellnessAssociates/

In a world obsessed with speed and rife with distractions, there are few things that feel better than sitting still, paying attention — and going nowhere. A celebrated travel writer explains how to get there.

 

When I was 29, I had the life I always dreamed of as a boy: a 25th-floor office in Midtown Manhattan, an apartment on Park Avenue and 20th Street, and an endlessly fascinating job. Writing for Time magazine, I covered the fall of apartheid in South Africa, the People Power Revolution of the Philippines, and the turmoil around Indira Gandhi’s assassination. With no dependents or domestic responsibilities, I took long vacations, traveling everywhere from El Salvador to Bali.

 

In the midst of all the daily excitement and accomplishment, however, was a voice inside telling me that I was racing around too fast to really see or enjoy where I was going — or to check whether I was truly happy.

 

Indeed, hurrying around in search of contentment seemed a perfect way of guaranteeing I’d never find it. Too often, I reminded myself of someone going on and on about world peace in the most contentious and divisive terms.

 

So I decided to leave my dream life and spend a year in a small, single room on the backstreets of the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto. At the time I couldn’t have explained exactly why I was doing this, except that I felt I had enjoyed a wonderful diet of movement and stimulation in New York, and it was time to balance that with something simpler. It was time to learn how to make these joys less external and ephemeral and to learn the art of sitting still.

 

Going nowhere — as my boyhood hero, singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, would later tell me — isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so you can see it more clearly and love it more deeply. These four practices can help you experience more quiet in your daily life, no matter where you are.

 

BE FOR REAL

One day — 4 in the morning at the end of December, to be exact — Cohen took time out from his meditations to meet me for an interview and talk about what he was doing at the Mt. Baldy Zen Center near Los Angeles.

 

Sitting still, he said with unexpected passion, was “the real deep entertainment” he had found in his 61 years on the planet. “Real profound and voluptuous and delicious entertainment. The real feast that is available within this activity.”

 

Was he kidding? Cohen is famous for his mischief and ironies. But as he went on, I realized he wasn’t joking.

 

“What else would I be doing?” he asked. “Would I be starting a new marriage with a young woman and raising another family? Finding new drugs, buying more expensive wine? I don’t know. This seems to me the most luxurious and sumptuous response to the emptiness of my own existence.”

 

As I observed the sense of attention, kindness, and even delight that seemed to come out of Cohen’s life of going nowhere, I began to think about how liberating it might be for any of us to practice sitting still — clearing our heads and quieting our emotions.

 

You could start just by taking a few minutes out of every day to sit quietly and do nothing, letting what moves you rise to the surface. You could enjoy a long walk in the wilderness, or take a few days out of every season to go on retreat, exploring what lies deeper within the moment or yourself.

 

You could, as Cohen was doing, try to find a life in which stage sets and performances disappear and be reminded, at a level deeper than all words, about how making a living and making a life sometimes point in opposite directions.

 

TAKE THE ROAD TO NOWHERE

The idea of going nowhere is as universal as the law of gravity. “All the unhappiness of men,” the 17th-century French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal famously noted, “arises from one simple fact: that they cannot sit quietly in their chamber.”

 

After Admiral Richard E. Byrd spent nearly five months alone in a shack in the Antarctic, in temperatures that sank to 70 degrees below zero, he emerged convinced that “half the confusion in the world comes from not knowing how little we need.”

 

Or, as they sometimes say around Kyoto, “Don’t just do something. Sit there.”

 

Yet the world in which Pascal and even Admiral Byrd lived seems positively tranquil by today’s standards. The amount of data humanity collects while you’re reading a book is five times greater than the amount that exists in the entire Library of Congress. Anyone reading my full book, The Art of Stillness, will take in as much information today as Shakespeare took in during his lifetime. Researchers in the field of interruption science have found that it takes an average of 25 minutes to recover from a phone call. Yet such interruptions come every 11 minutes, on average — which means we’re never caught up with our lives.

 

So the more data that comes streaming in on us, the less time we have to process any of it.

 

The one thing technology doesn’t provide is a sense of how to make the best use of it. The ability to gather information, which used to be so crucial, is far less important now than the ability to sift through it.

 

It’s easy to feel as if you’re standing 2 inches away from a huge canvas that’s crowded and changing every microsecond. It’s only by stepping back and standing still that you can begin to take in the larger picture and see what that canvas — which is your life — really means.

 

UNPLUG AND RECHARGE

I’ve always been surprised to find that the people who have worked to speed up the world are often the same ones most sensitive to the virtue of slowing down.

 

One day I visited Library of Congress headquarters to give a talk on the Dalai Lama book I’d written and, like most visitors, I was impressed by the trampolines, the indoor tree houses, and the freedom that workers had to let their minds wander off leash to wherever inspiration might be hiding.

 

Many Silicon Valley employees observe an Internet Sabbath every week, turning off most of their devices from Friday night to Monday morning, if only to regain the sense of proportion and direction they’ll need when they go back online.

 

There is now a meditation room in every building on the General Mills campus in Minneapolis. Congressman Tim Ryan leads his colleagues in sessions of sitting still, reminding them that, if nothing else, scientists have found that meditation can lower blood pressure, help boost our immune systems, and even change the architecture of our brains.

 

A growing percentage of American companies now have stress-reduction programs, and the number is increasing by the day. More than 30 percent of those enrolled in such a program at Aetna, the giant healthcare company, saw their stress levels drop by a third after only an hour of yoga each week.

 

The computer-chip maker Intel experimented with a quiet period of four hours every Tuesday, during which 300 engineers and managers were asked to turn off their email and phones and put up Do Not Disturb signs on their office doors to make space for “thinking time.” The response proved so enthusiastic that the company inaugurated an eight-week program to encourage clearer thinking.

 

After a similar seven-week program at General Mills, 80 percent of senior executives reported an improvement in their ability to make decisions, and 89 percent said they had become better listeners. Such developments are saving American corporations $300 billion a year; more important, they’re a form of preemptive medicine at a time when the World Health Organization has projected that “stress will be the health epidemic of the 21st century.”

 

It may be strange to see mind training — going nowhere, in effect — being embraced by forward-pushing organizations. And it’s true, the businesses that view mindfulness practices as opportunities for advancing their goals may simply be deploying new and imaginative means to the same un-elevated ends: searching for ways to squeeze ever more productivity from their employees.

 

To me, the point of sitting still is to help you see through the very idea of pushing forward; it leads you to a place where you’re defined by something larger. Its benefits lie within some psychological account with a high interest rate but long-term yields, to be drawn upon at the moment when a doctor walks into the room shaking his head, or another car veers in front of yours, and all you have to draw upon is the clarity and focus you’ve collected in your deeper moments.

 

KEEP THE SABBATH

The one word for which the adjective “holy” is used in the Ten Commandments is “Sabbath.” But keeping the Sabbath — doing nothing for a while — is one of the hardest things in life for me. I’d much rather give up meat or wine or sex than the option of checking my emails or getting on with my work when I want to. If I don’t answer my messages today, I tell myself, there will only be more to answer tomorrow (though, in truth, refraining from sending messages will likely diminish the number I receive). If I take time off, I somehow believe, I’ll be that much more hurried when I return to work.

 

Whenever I finally force myself away from my desk for a day, of course, I find the opposite: The more time I spend away from my work, the better the work will be.

 

One day, Mahatma Gandhi was said to have woken up and told those around him, “This is going to be a very busy day. I won’t be able to meditate for an hour.” His friends were taken aback at this rare break from his discipline. “I’ll have to meditate for two,” he explained.

 

I mentioned this once on a radio program and a woman called in, understandably impatient. “It’s all very well for a male travel writer in Santa Barbara to talk about taking time off,” she said. “But what about me? I’m a mother trying to start a small business, and I don’t have the luxury of meditating for two hours a day.”

 

Yet it’s precisely those who are busiest, I wanted to tell her, who most need to give themselves a break. Stress is contagious. If the overburdened mother could ask her spouse — or her mother or a friend — to look after her kids for 30 minutes a day, I’m sure she’d be more relaxed and have more energy and joy to share with her children (and with her business) when she came back.

 

Space, as Karl Marx explained it in another context, has been annihilated by time. This is especially true today. We feel as though we can connect with anyone, almost anywhere, at any moment. And the more we contact others, the more it seems we lose contact with ourselves.

 

When I left New York City for the backstreets of Kyoto, I figured I’d be growing poorer in terms of money, amusements, social life, and obvious prospects, but I’d be richer in what I prize most: days and hours.

 

This is what the principle of the Sabbath enshrines. It is, as the great Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel put it, “a cathedral in time rather than in space.”

 

The one day a week we take off becomes a vast empty space through which we can wander, without agenda. It’s like a retreat house that ensures we’ll have something bright and purposeful to carry back into the other six days. The Sabbath reminds us that, in the end, all our journeys have to bring us home.

 

It takes courage, of course, to step out of the fray, just as it takes courage to do anything that’s necessary, whether it’s turning away from that sugarcoated doughnut or tending to a loved one on her deathbed. And with billions of our global neighbors in crying need, with so much in every life that has to be done, it can sound selfish to take a break or go off to a quiet place. But as soon as you sit still, you find that it actually brings you closer to others, in both understanding and sympathy.

 

In any case, few of us have the chance to step out of our daily lives often, or for very long. Nowhere can become somewhere we visit in the quiet corners of our lives by just sitting quietly for 30 minutes every morning (a mere 3 percent of our waking hours). The point of gathering stillness is not to enrich the sanctuary or mountaintop but to bring that calm into the motion and commotion of the world.

 

Because, in an age of speed, nothing can be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And, in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.

 

Health and Wellness Associates

Archived

312-972-WELL

HealthWellnessAssociates@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/HealthAndWellnessAssociates/

Advertisements
Health and Disease, Uncategorized

The Cure Is In The Kitchen

cureinkitchen

The Cure Is In The Kitchen

 

There are a lot of reasons why people visit the Mayo Clinic, most of which have something to do with heart surgery or various other medical emergencies. I traveled there recently to learn how to cook barley risotto.

 

Barley has many good features: It’s full of fiber and rich in niacin (vitamin B3) and minerals such as manganese and selenium. It also has a nice, nutty flavor that lends itself to a wide variety of pleasant dishes you might enjoy at the end of a long day. Plus, it’s really easy to cook.

 

I could have learned to make barley risotto in five minutes by reading a recipe, but I went to the Mayo Clinic to learn about it because I wanted to hear from doctors there who are convinced that the greatest public-health advances will come not from gee-whiz medical technology but by teaching Americans how to cook healthy meals.

 

That’s how I happened to sit down with internist Deborah Rhodes, MD, over barley risotto. At one point, our conversation turned to that classic scene from TV cop dramas: A drug dealer, riddled with gunshot wounds, is rushed into the emergency room on a hospital gurney. The valiant crew of surgeons and nurses race to save him, cracking jokes about how one of the bullets hit the exact same place where he was wounded the last time he was in the ER. It will, they quip, reduce the amount of scarring.

 

It’s tempting to look at that cliché and see a tragic example of someone who made dangerous choices that overtax our medical system while destroying lives. But do we ever stop to think about the everyday choices we make that lead to similarly awful outcomes?

 

Rhodes told me she sees patients all the time who suffer an obesity-related medical emergency — say a heart attack — and return years later with other serious complications of obesity because they were unable to address the underlying causes. The statistics are alarming:

 

Women who have survived one of the most common types of breast cancer and are obese have a 30 percent higher chance of recurrence and a nearly 50 percent higher chance of dying from the cancer, compared with healthy-weight survivors.

Some 120,000 cancer cases in the United States each year are directly associated with obesity, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.

Weight issues may account for as many as 14 percent of cancer deaths in men and 20 percent in women 50 and older, according to a 2003 study by the American Cancer Society.

More than 16 percent of strokes are associated with obesity.

Middle-age men who are obese have a 60 percent greater chance of dying from a heart attack than their counterparts with a healthy weight.

Obesity, of course, has many causes, but for most of us it’s all about priorities — especially balancing the demands of work against the time and energy required to develop and practice healthy habits. We often feel it’s good to spend an extra three hours at the office, but bad to take a little time off to attend yoga class. Or we believe it’s OK to be so selfless at work that we skip lunch, work through dinner, and hit the drive-through on the way home, but it’s selfish to insist on making time for family meals.

 

Part of the solution, according to Rhodes and her Mayo Clinic colleagues, is to teach people how to cook. Mayo’s new “participation kitchen” can help people emerging from a medical crisis who are ready to use that difficult moment in their lives as a pivot point. Learning to prepare healthy meals can aid the  transition from their current lifestyle to one that may keep them out of the emergency room in the future.

 

Mayo also offers life coaching and Pilates classes, as well as health assessments, to help patients get back on the fitness track. If this doesn’t sound like our notions of a hospital, that’s because Mayo and other medical centers are beginning to figure out that the future of health is about preventing, rather than treating, chronic disease. And eating well is a central part of the strategy.

 

That’s easier said than done, of course, and it always has been. Hippocrates, who lived some 2,500 years ago, offered one of our better-known life lessons when he said, “Let food be thy medicine.” But, as Plato pointed out, not everyone was listening. “We have made of ourselves living cesspools and driven doctors to invent names for our diseases,” the philosopher wrote.

 

People in Hippocrates’s time ate what we would today call an organic, whole-foods diet, and they probably got a fair amount of exercise, as there were no cars or escalators. But they still found a way to eat poorly. It’s just something that people do — we’re all too human, all too frail. I like to think of a poor diet not as a personal failure, but as a weakness that has vexed humans since at least the time of Hippocrates.

 

How can we work with that human frailty and nudge ourselves in the direction of better health? We might start by cooking barley for risotto. Load it up with sautéed red peppers and Swiss chard, throw on some sautéed chicken, lamb sausage, or salmon, and you have a thoroughly healthy and satisfying meal.

 

There are even easier steps, though. Keep a bag of almonds or protein bars at the office. They’ll keep you from resorting to the vending machine for sustenance when those last-minute meetings force you to skip lunch. Make a batch of hard-boiled eggs on the weekend so you can grab a quick, protein-rich breakfast when you’re running late for work. Swap out sugary beverages for drinks that you actually love just as much but don’t consider very often — perhaps chilled peppermint tea?

 

None of these things is as complicated as heart surgery. But taken together, they might just keep you out of the emergency room and off the operating table.

 

Health and Wellness Associates

Archived

312-972-WELL

HealthWellnessAssociates@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/HealthAndWellnessAssociates/

Foods, Uncategorized

The Healthiest Super Veggies

Vegetables_Bad_For_Health_Asparagus

The Healthiest Super-Veggies

 

 

Healthiest of the Super- Veggies

 

Call me crazy, but I’ve never had an issue with eating vegetables. Even at a young age I was accustomed to eating all kinds of veggies, and they never phased me. In fact, I consider myself extremely open to eating most foods, there’s not much that I don’t like the taste of.

 

After working extensively at a fully organic produce section of a health foods store, I’ve collected quite a bit of knowledge about some of the healthiest foods to eat.

 

The book and related website, World’s Healthiest Foods, is an awesome resource for anyone trying to pinpoint the healthiest foods to eat. A big shout out to WHF for cataloging  this useful information in such a fantastic way.

 

While there is a relevant time and place for Western medicine practices, it often overlooks one major thing: preventative care. This type of mindset involves thinking in terms of a long-term approach for maintaining a healthy life. And it all starts with a health-conscious diet.

After all, we’ve all heard the adage: “we are what we eat.” Well, if you eat the following vegetables you are probably very healthy!

 

Eggplant

These purple wonders are high in fiber, and extremely low in calories and fat. Eggplant contains heart healthy properties because it contains potassium and powerful antioxidants.

 

Beets And Their Greens

Beets are a great example of all around beneficial health food. When you eat beets, your heart will thank you, your blood sugar will remain level, and your digestive system will be in tip top shape. Many people don’t realize that the greens of beets actually contain more essential nutrients than the root does. So rethink tossing beet greens in the garbage, instead wash beet greens and sautee them with your favorite foods.

 

Brussels Sprouts

Why does everyone seem to hate the taste of brussels sprouts? I think the answer is simple, they haven’t prepared them in a tasty enough way! While cabbage is also healthy to eat, the miniature version, brussels sprouts, actually contain more than twice as much of vitamins A through K, as well as double the amount of calcium, iron, potassium, and protein.

 

Broccoli

While all dark green vegetables provide many vital vitamins and minerals, broccoli is especially good at preventing Type 2 Diabetes, and stomach, rectal, and lung cancers.

Sweet Potatoes

While technically related, sweet potatoes are actually only distant relatives to their more starchy cousins. Sweet potatoes are nutrient dense and contain more complex carbohydrates, protein, and fiber than a lot of vegetables.

 

Bell Peppers

While all sweet bell peppers are tasty and full of vitamin C, the red variations are actually the most healthy of all. This is due to a high amount of lycopene in the shiny red ones. Keep in mind, lycopene content is actually increased when foods like red bell peppers and tomatoes are cooked instead of eaten raw.

Kale

While it might get a bad rap as being a bourgeois health food, kale is extremely rich in vitamin K and many other vitamins and minerals. Kale is more easily digested by your body when it is cooked. Reach for kale chips as a go to snack, or braised kale rather than raw kale salads.

 

Asparagus

Why does the asparagus stigma exist? It shouldn’t, because it strips your body of toxins. Ever wonder why urine smells so bad after you eat asparagus? It’s not a random occurrence, it has to do with the chemical found in asparagus, mercaptan, being broken down in your body. This combined with the toxins that are released from your body equate in slightly pungent pee. But aren’t you happy it’s gone?

 

 

Health and Wellness Associates

Archived

312-972-WELL

HealthWellnessAssociates@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/HealthAndWellnessAssociates/