Unintended consequences of mindfulness

The baby quail are growing up. Bird watching, especially the babies, helps me relax.

I have two mindfulness apps on my phone. They are supposed to help me with anxiety and stress. One is called Mindfulness, the other Headspace. I’m not very good about using them. I’ll go through a phase where at the end of the day, I’ll sit down and turn on the app for a five minute mindfulness session. Then the next week, I forget about them.

I saw a headline in the Washington Post that caught my eye:

An unintended consequence of mindfulness

Sometimes it pays to contemplate other people’s feelings — not merely your own by Andrew C. Hafenbrack

Here’s an excerpt:

You’ve had a stressful day at work, so, like millions of other people, you open up Calm or Headspace on your smartphone and do some mindful meditation — concentrating on your bodily sensations, “observing” your thoughts in the moment. Research has shown that this is likely to have benefits: Mindful meditation reduces anxiety, depression and stress; more pragmatically, it can also improve sleep, decision-making, focus and self-control. This helps to explain why so many companies have jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon, incorporating it in corporate wellness programs (and why Calm was valued at $2 billion in 2020). But what if, in the course of your stressful day, you acted like a jerk toward a colleague at a meeting? Could all of that inward focus cause you to downplay the harm you caused that person, letting it float away like a leaf on a stream?

That’s exactly what my research colleagues Matthew LaPalme and Isabelle Solal and I found in a series of eight studies, involving more than 1,400 participants in the United States and Portugal, slated to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Across a range of laboratory scenarios and online experiments, we found that asking people to engage in a single session of 8 or 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation — focusing their attention on the physical sensations of breathing — reduced their self-reported levels of guilt (about incidents warranting guilt). It also reduced their willingness to take “prosocial” steps to remedy harms they’d done. The research suggests that people ought to be careful about when they use mindfulness meditation, lest the comfort they derive from it come at the cost of their connections with other human beings.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2022/05/18/mindful-meditation-guilt-amends/

The writer is an assistant professor at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. In his studies he discovered that Meditation led feelings of guilt to subside, along with the desire to rectify the situation.

So meditation is good at making us feel calm, but it may get rid of guilt when we hurt someone else’s feelings. Sometimes feeling guilty is good, especially if it’s warranted. The emotion of guilt can prompt us to do the right thing like apologize. The inward trend of mindfulness can lessen our empathy to those around us.

I had never heard this perspective before and I found it interesting.

What are your thoughts about mindfulness? Do you find it helpful? Do you think it alleviates feelings of guilt or not?

cardinal in Arizona back yard
Cardinal in my backyard.

Freedom of speech?

Tweet from Elon Musk yesterday.

The big news on Thursday was Elon Musk offering to buy Twitter at a 38% premium. What will happen?

Twitter employees were given a day off to rest last week because of the stress of learning Musk bought 9.2% of their company and was offered a seat on the board. Imagine how they felt Thursday!

During the brief time the world thought Musk was going to be on the board of Twitter, he tweeted some funny stuff including this:

Musk said in a Ted Talk yesterday that he doesn’t have an economic motive but believes in free speech. I read that people at Babylon Bee, a satirical site, were contacted by Musk before he purchased shares. He asked if they had been banned and why.

Personally I’m against censorship and banning people unless they are breaking the law. I’m all for free speech.

I think Musk is one of those polarizing figures who people love or love to hate. I have taken the temperature of my immediate family to attest to this fact.

What are your thoughts? Do you think Twitter should be owned by Musk? What are your thoughts about censorship and free speech? Do you use social media? If so, which ones?

Another funny tweet during Elon’s one or two days of being named to the BOD.

Do deaths come in threes?

children climbing on me at the beach
Life at the beach with two young kids back in our Laguna days.

I’ve been struggling to find the words. My brain is hurting at the thought. We lost another friend. A close friend. Our son’s godfather.

I got the call last week from our friend’s wife. I cried all night. I need to send a sympathy card and I can’t get myself to write it. The words seem so tiny and small. Helpless. I don’t know how she and her daughters are getting through each day and night. My heart aches for them.

We have so many memories with our two families together. At one time, Joe was my husband’s boss. They moved from San Francisco to the Palm Springs area when our son was a newborn. They had three daughters close in age to our kids.

They invited us into their beach deal. They found an inexpensive house to rent in Laguna Beach from Memorial Day to Labor Day and asked us to split the summer with them. With summer temperatures ranging from 110 to 124 degrees in Palm Springs, this beach rental changed our lives. I was a stay-at-home mom taking the kids to swim lessons and hanging out at the beach building sand castles and boogie boarding with my children.

My husband took long weekends and commuted back and forth. We shared a few weekends with our friends during the summer playing volleyball, Trivial Pursuit and eating pizzas with the kids.

When they moved to New Jersey to corporate headquarters as Joe moved up the chain of command with the firm, we visited them and spent Christmas together. We shared time together on corporate-sponsored trips and visited them more often when they moved to Nevada (a four-hour drive from Palm Springs).

Joe was proud of his Catholic education at an all boys school on Long Island. He was a Lit major at Rutgers and he loaned my husband and me must-read literature we had somehow missed including “Atlas Shrugged” and “The East India Trading Company.”

Joe had charisma, charm and a great sense of humor. He had a band of employees at the firm and friends throughout his life that put him on a pedestal — our family included. The last time we saw him was on Coronado Island at his middle daughter’s wedding. It was a beautiful weekend filled with memories I treasure.

We planned on going back to Coronado to visit them that summer or driving to Vegas to visit during the winter, but COVID hit. I feel like a few years of friendship were stolen. Joe was diagnosed with cancer years ago but survived and beat it. His heath was an issue, but he was living his life in his big way until this last year when another cancer hit.

I sincerely hope that it’s true that deaths come in threes, because this is the third close friend we’ve lost since Thanksgiving.

Do you think it’s an old wives tale that deaths come in threes? Have you lost anyone close to you this past year? Do you feel like COVID has stolen time from you with friends and family?

Live now. Procrastinate later.

watercolor painting of cabin
A watercolor by my grandma of our cabin in Washington.

I have been avoiding a difficult conversation for months now. It’s been eating at me. I’ve prayed to find the right words. I received an email yesterday that I needed to answer — and I realized I was being handed the perfect opportunity. I decided on the outset of the day to call right away and get it over with. But first I took my morning walk.

I think by procrastinating, literally for months, I was building the call into something it wasn’t. I was making a bigger deal out of the call than it was. I knew I’d be anxious all day, so I chose to make the call in the morning.

By putting off the inevitable, I was stressing myself out and generating needless anxiety.

Yes, I did it. I feel like a huge weight is off my shoulders. The person I talked with is very reasonable and understanding. That helps.

I remember working as a financial advisor, I hated some calls more than others. I could easily put some calls off on the back burner — until they absolutely had to be made.

I have a sign sitting on my desk that says “Live now. Procrastinate later.” I should look at the sign a little more often.

What do you do when faced with a conversation you don’t want to have? Do you tackle it right away? Or avoid it at all costs? Do you do the same thing with chores or things you don’t want to do like taxes? Or do you face the monster and end the nightmare?

cat on a desk
Just mow I found Olive on my desk.

Tossing and turning

bright red desert flowers
Some bright spots of color in our backyard.

I had one of those nights of not being able to stay asleep. It was awful. I looked at the clock at 1 a.m., 3, 4, 5 and 6 a.m. Finally, I gave up. I tried to figure out what was the problem. I couldn’t get comfortable. I was too hot. I had a headache. I felt clammy. I wanted some water. It was always something.

Now that it’s daytime, I’m pushing through my day, though not feeling 100%, I realized my problem with last night was today. I’m having to get out of my comfort zone. I took on my HOA’s newsletter as editor and I have most of it done — except for the front page. I was told that after the HOA board meeting — which is TODAY — the board would give me the information from the meeting. Then I can put the newsletter to bed.

But I got a phone call. They want me to go to the meeting, introduce myself and say something. The board wants to meet me to have me take notes. Ordinarily, this would be no big deal. I had a career of doing newsletters. I don’t know what is it this time? Maybe it’s COVID shut down related. Starting our third year of not having our normal interactions.

Also, I have a new audience for my work and I am insecure if people will like it or not. They’ve had the same person doing the newsletter for 15 years and I’m coming in fresh. Maybe they will want the newsletter the way it was before. The same handful of people have sat on this board of directors for 15 years. They said they want fresh ideas and people, but will they? On the bright side, I’ll finally meet some people in this neighborhood — and that was the point of me taking on this project.

Bright orange tipped desert plants
More color in the backyard.

Do you feel intimidated by new situations and people? Do you push yourself out of your comfort zone? When you do, do you lose sleep over it? What do you lose sleep over?

Blogging Along Through Life

My daughter with her relay celebrating in the pool.

When I started my blog in 2014, my focus was financial news for women. I had a short stint as a financial adviser working with my husband. At that time, I thought I had lots of knowledge to share. I had passed all the exams and went through training by two big firms.

One fact that stood out to me was that women own the majority of the wealth in our nation, yet they have less knowledge about investing than men. I thought I found a perfect niche to blog about. Funny thing, nobody wanted to read those posts. Maybe it was because I was new and didn’t have an audience — but when I wrote about other topics, I got way more views and comments.

My next niche was parenting — particularly sports parenting. I submitted one of my blog posts to the most read swim website, SwimSwam, and got feedback from the owner/founder Gold Medal Mel, Mel Stewart. He asked me to start writing parenting advice. He wanted me to write once a month for three months. After that trial period, I wrote every week. You can check out those articles HERE. I continued with that for six years, mostly basing my articles on my past mistakes. I didn’t want newer sports parents to go through the drama and issues that I had. I was thrilled when parents would email me and ask for advice. I started an “Ask Swim Mom” column from those emails.

My other favorite topics to blog about were about college admissions and being the parent of college kids. I learned a lot during those years. But as my kids grew, I felt I had less to offer in the parenting arena. In fact, I think my swim parenting articles put pressure on my daughter or made her feel exposed. I realized I’m far from an expert. Who am I to give advice?

Now, my blogging is me slogging through this phase of life trying to figure it out. What I enjoy most about blogging now is the community of bloggers I read every day. It’s more satisfying and supportive than before.

I’m curious how you see your blog evolving or changing through time. Do you feel you have a niche and what is it? What are your favorite topics to blog about?

Friendships new and old

Arizona sunset.
Arizona sunset.

This past week was a tough one for us. But, I learned to appreciate friendships — new and old. We lost our dear friend Mark on Thanksgiving night who we’ve known for decades, but afterwards we got closer to his friends and family. We attended a viewing that was for his family and closest friends. There will be a funeral in Seattle, where he grew up and lived until a few years ago, after the holidays.

I wasn’t anxious to attend the viewing. It seemed to be on the morbid side to me. But it turned out to be very comforting. It was in a building with a nice waiting area with comfortable couches and chairs. The 20 or so of us friends and family gathered and hugged. By ones and twos people would go into the separate viewing area. My husband and I chose not to because we wanted to remember Mark as we knew him. One of his sons went in and one stayed out.

Afterwards, we went to lunch with some of Mark’s family and with one couple who flew down from Seattle for the viewing. Mark had introduced us to the Seattle couple in the spring. We hit it off and I’ve visited the Seattle couple when I’m up there to see my mom. They are planning on moving to Arizona when they retire and they bought a house here because of Mark that they’ve rented out. They asked to stay with us. I’m so glad they did. It was nice to be with them and share memories about Mark. I feel like our friendship has been cemented and that we’re in a special club for “Friends of Mark.” We are new friends who will become old friends — God willing.

In the evening, we all gathered at Mark’s house for finger foods and a pasta dinner prepared by his family. All the time with these friends and people I haven’t seen for years, or who I met for the first time, was a big step in healing. I returned home feeling peaceful and less sad and fragile. I’m happy for the time we had Mark in our lives and I’m amazed at how he touched so many people.

Do you think that since March 2020, we lost connection with friends and family and the joy it brings to our lives? Did you, or were you able to stay close to your loved ones?