Try This! Wild Exercises for Adventurous Travelers

My friend, Julia Cross, a brilliant dancer, demonstrates how to get exercise in flight.  What fitness program would make it possible for the rest of us?!  Happy Holidays and safe travels!

 

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A Discussion of Essential Self Technologies

This discussion of Essential Self Technologies was presented April 10, 2014, at the MIT Media Lab.

Special thanks to Pattie Maes for hosting, to Alex Bodell and Anthony Zorzos for helping with the demo technologies, and to Karthik Dinakar, who provided video and tech support.

(Yes, I mis-speak for a moment at the beginning.  Oops!  The sympathetic nervous system refers to our “fight or flight” response.  The parasympathetic nervous system refers to our “rest and renew” or “rest and digest” response.)

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Cute Cats Redux

Ethan Zuckerman, who is wise, kind, and brilliant, posits that people have a preference for using the Internet for banal activities, like surfing for “cute cats.”  It seems true that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and the like, are, indeed, rife with cute cats.  I’m beginning to believe there is a deep explanation for that.  I’m proposing a theory hereby referred to as Cute Cats Redux.

Here’s a little background:

In 2009, I was talking about email apnea and showing the Heartmath EmWave technology at a Foo Camp.  Before passing the EmWave around, I demonstrated it.  The EmWave shows, using red, blue, and green colored lights, the level of stress one is experiencing. 

I explained that, to reduce stress, one could use certain types of breathing to get into a more balanced autonomic state.  Only, even as I was using the suggested breathing technique, I was _not_  shifting states.  The light was red. Red. RED.

I looked at the audience and said:  “There’s actually another way to do this. When we evoke feelings of love and appreciation, it can also bring us into a more balanced autonomic state.” I looked around the room and saw so many people I admired and appreciated:  Matt Mullenweg, John Hagel, Kathy Sierra, Bunnie Huang, Dan Gould, Sara Winge, and so many others.

Then, my eyes settled on Matt Mullenweg.  Matt had very kindly come up to me at a conference a few months earlier, and mentioned that he enjoyed my writing, and when I was ready to move off my very broken JotSpot Wiki, to WordPress, that he’d be happy to help me.  I was so moved by this – both emotionally (and literally!  I made the switch and Matt was awesome!). 

I started, “Matt, thank you so much for your kindness – for…”  Before I could even finish the sentence, the audience gasped.  GREEN!!!  Eye contact, appreciation, and a few words, had shifted my autonomic state instantly!  The audience SAW the power of emotion.  Of course, with the emotion, my breathing and attention state also shifted.  I was more relaxed.  It’s all wired together:  attention, emotion, breathing.

A few months after that, I was showing a senior executive how to use the EmWave to become more aware of her stress levels and to learn to better manage this.  When breathing techniques didn’t work to help her shift out of a stressed state, I suggested she think about something she loved.  Her husband was standing nearby.  For a moment (she explained later), she focused on her husband, then sighed, and said, “Honey, I’m going to focus on the cats.”  Green!  Instant green!

Fast forward to March 2014.  I’m being interviewed by Erin Anderssen, a journalist.  She mentions that it can be challenging to shift from red to green when she’s using the EmWave.  I tell her the story from 2009.  Then it hits me! 

What if all the cute cats and dogs on the Internet are in some small way, evoking momentary feelings of love and appreciation?  What if looking at these images is as beneficial as a “breathing break.”  What if cute cats and dogs make us kinder and more empathic as we hunch over our personal technologies for hours on end?  What if we are self-soothing and bringing ourselves back into a kind of spiritual homeostasis when we look at and share these images and videos.

It turns out, there’s science to support the Cute Cats Redux theory.  There’s a database of images called the International Affective Picture System, compiled by researchers Margaret Bradley and Peter Lang.  This calibrated set of photos tracks affective consequences, and positive and negative responses to photos.  Negative examples include:  a spider, a baby with a tumor, and an automobile crash with injured people.  On the positive side, there’s a category referred to as “cute.”  Cute includes the old couple on the park bench holding hands and watching the sunset, as well as kittens and puppies.  All these produce positive affect.

Looking at those cute cats and puppies is not a waste of time.  It’s self-soothing.  Just as we have a physical homeostasis that supports healthy regulation of bodily functions, I believe we have a spiritual homeostasis that can draw us, both individually and collectively toward what heals us.  Cute Cats Redux.  

This post is dedicated to Ben Huh, Cheezburger, and to a very funny guy who sent me a video of him singing a sweet song to his cat.

 

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What Part of You is Free?

This post was written several years ago.  I’m feeling great these days and ready to post some of the things written in darker moments…

From January 2010

I’m lying in bed and the right side of my body is frozen.  I’m right-handed.  I want to get up and the thought alone isn’t getting me there.  I remember something my doctor said, “When you wake up, pay attention to what is working.  Put all your attention on that.” 

I scan my body.   My left arm is great.   Okay, left arm, show me what you can do.  I reach to grab one of the headboard spindles, and use my left arm to roll over and hoist myself up.  My left leg is working pretty well, too.  I lean against the wall and drag myself into the bathroom.  Home run.  I may be right-handed, but my left arm rules.

A few years ago, my friend, Mary Jane, was telling me about someone she had coached.   The woman kept diving into the same story, the same limitations, and the same struggles.  Mary Jane would listen and ask questions.  At one point, in a face-to-face meeting, Mary Jane took the woman’s arm and told her to try to get away.  The woman pulled and pulled with the arm Mary Jane was holding, then, gave up.  “I’m stuck,” she said, committed to stuck-ness.

“What part of you is caught?”   Mary Jane asked.  

“Easy,” the woman responded, “my arm.”

“What part of you is free,” Mary Jane coached.

“Wow.  The rest of my body!”

“How can you use the rest of your body to free yourself?”

The woman was quickly free. 

As I fell back into bed, I wondered why mind always found limitations quickly and was blind to freedom.

One of my favorite mentors and teachers, Byron Katie, offers:

“Life is simple. Everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don’t have to like it… it’s just easier if you do.”

 

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Falling in Love (How To)

A few years ago, in a conversation with a friend, I caught myself paying more attention to another, nearby conversation. Realizing I was missing the moment to connect with this friend, I created a “game” for myself to counteract the distraction. Now, as much as possible, when I make a choice to be in conversation with someone, I assign myself the task of noticing what I like about that person. This attunes my listening, and softens my attention into a state I call “relaxed presence.” It opens me into a receptive, present moment state.

In doing this, I find myself falling in love all day long.  

For me, this “game” is more powerful than listing what I’m grateful for or reminding myself of the power of unconditional love and compassion.  Going from the general to the specific, is immediate and powerful.

Tonight, at dinner, I fell in like/love with the person next to me, a serial entrepreneur and social entrepreneur with a strong sense of integrity,  warmth and kindness,  curiosity and creativity.  

The path toward compassion and unconditional love starts here.

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Our Powerful and Fragile Attention

What if I told you that the way we are talking about attention is part of the problem today? Our conversation about distraction, multi-tasking, and the stern command to focus actually creates a level of stress, anxiety, and shame.

Headlines read: Dangers of Digital Distraction! Taming the Distraction Monster! Time to Unplug! This conversation stresses us in a way similar to the techniques magicians and con artists use to create misdirection. As we consider how distracted we are, we shame ourselves with messages like: “I should unplug!” “I have too much to do!” “I’m distracted!” “I have to focus!”

All of these thoughts, all of this stress, zaps our attention bandwidth. We twist in the winds of our own misdirection. Isn’t it ironic that even in our efforts to manage our attention effectively, we are, instead, contributing to stress and misdirection!

If we don’t consciously choose where we want to direct our attention, there will always be something in our path tomisdirect it. From the news, to pickpockets, to Facebook — every choice we don’t make is made for us.

If we want to harness the superpower that is our attention, instead of talking about distraction and a need to unplug and disconnect, let’s talk about what it is we choose to connect to. As we reach for what we prefer, we can stop stressing and shaming ourselves regarding what it is we’re getting wrong.

Click here to read the whole post on the HuffingtonPost

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The Time We Have (in Jelly Beans)

http://ashow.zefrank.com/episodes/128

My friend’s 16 year old son stopped playing video games. Cold turkey. From hours a day in front of the screen one day to those same hours spent with friends ever after.

“Why did you stop?” his mother asked.

“Jelly Beans. My life in jelly beans.”

Thanks to Ze Frank for creating this powerful video!

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January 25, 2014 · 7:30 am