Thirty Minutes Without My Phone

ihop coffeeThe fact that a half-hour meal alone in an IHOP occasions its own blog post shows just how far I’ve devolved in my practice of solitude.

I’ve gotten pretty good at putting my phone away when going out for meals with friends and family. But when I’m alone in a waiting room, in line at the store, or even on the sidewalk waiting for the pedestrian light, I reach for that phone like an itch.

Of course I love the convenience and connection of mobile technology. I usually choose e-books over paper (I’m ducking virtual fists as I type this) and cultivate dozens of deep friendships online. But I can barely sit by myself, even for more than a minute, without running my fingers over that screen. It’s not so much that technology itself has ruined me. I’ve forgotten how to sit, how to just be—period. [Read more…]

Traveling Through These Days of Awe

Rick Chess photoI’m in a plane ascending to 37,000 feet.

How restless have I been this year? How easily distractible?

Already on this flight, from the time of boarding the plane until now, I’ve jumped from e-mail to Facebook to FiveThirtyEight to Jane Hirshfield on Basho to Mishkan Hanefesh, Sanctuary of the Soul, the Reform movement’s new high holiday prayer book. Already I’ve skipped from skimming to sinking to expanding to avoiding: I don’t want to look at that e-mail right now. It can wait.

We boarded at around 4 p.m. and maybe it’s around 4:50 p.m. now, and in that brief span of time I’ve registered for a free online course on The Science of Meditation, knowing full well that next week, when the webinar is live, I will have no time to participate but I must participate because I just offered to teach on my own “The Art and Science of Meditation,” a course that I’ve taught with three other colleagues, including a neuroscientist, for the past two spring semesters, and I am going to need all the help I can get with the science part of the course this spring. [Read more…]

You Must Be Present to Learn

4833326522_a6c37bda2e_zFor the past five years, I’ve been experimenting with the use of contemplative practices in the classes I teach at UNC Asheville. For a quick overview of the range of contemplative practices being used in higher education today, see The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society’s Tree of Contemplative Practices.

On the eve of a new academic year, today I offer you a list of some of the things I’ve observed as I explore the use of this powerful pedagogy in my own work as a contemplative educator. [Read more…]

Why We Make Art

“Who you actually are is far bigger than the narrative you construct about who you are,” writes Jon Kabat-Zinn in Mindfulness for Beginners.

At this moment—end of semester, grades in, annual faculty record due, next year’s budget due, meetings to schedule, e-mails to respond to, office to clean, and the thousand and one things to do at home that have been ignored for months but there’s little time before I load the car and my son and I back out of the driveway, aim the car toward onto I-40W, Asheville to L.A.—I am feeling small, worn, reduced if not defeated.

And at this moment, 106 words into the unknown of this essay now two days late: doubt. Doubting my intelligence, talent, strength.

I know this story: I’ve been reading it for decades. Though who “I” was when the story of doubt, my doubt, was first written, I’m not, at this moment, sure, who else but “me” could have written the first draft? [Read more…]