Mindfulness Matters

A Newsletter from the UVA Mindfulness Center

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Monthly Musings

Perception

When we see things, we tend to believe what we see is an accurate reflection of the way things are.  How many times have we seen or heard the phrase “seeing is believing”?  When we see something, usually our automatic reaction is to believe it.  Yet there is much evidence that this is an oversimplification, that what we see is not just a simple and accurate representation of the world around us. To begin with, far more information enters our eyes than we could ever process in conscious awareness.  This information has to be filtered first, and this filtering occurs automatically without our even knowing that it is occurring.  An estimated one gigabyte of information enters our eyes each second, and is filtered down to just a few bytes of relevant data.  What is considered relevant depends on context and to what we are paying attention.  You may have seen the video of people passing a basketball during which a gorilla walks through.
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Hummingbirds

Summer is here and with it ​an opportunity to appreciate all the bounties of nature.  Trees are green, flowers are in bloom, birds and animals abound.  The heat and humidity can be a barrier to spending time outside,  and we may find we seek the comfort of air-conditioned space to escape them.  My wife and I have been noticing this, and intentionally choosing to sit on our deck, in the shade.  The place where we sit is right next to a hummingbird feeder, and we’ve been watching the hummingbirds.  Hummingbirds are amazing creatures.  They can beat their wings over 50 times a second, and are the only birds that can hover.  They have very active metabolisms, and may consume up to half their body weight in a day, visiting as many as 1000-2000 flowers.  They are travelers and can migrate up to 2000 miles, wintering in Mexico and Central America.  They also have relatively large brains, about twice as large compared to their body weight as humans. 
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Last month, the Monthly Musing addressed cultivating kindness for ourselves. This month, the focus is on cultivating kindness toward others. There are many benefits of doing both. Extending kindness to ourselves can help decrease the impact of negative experiences and emotions and improve our wellbeing.  Extending kindness to others can have similar effects.  Often when we are angry with someone or hold a grudge, we may be the ones who feel it the most.  If we can acknowledge these feelings and intentionally respond with kindness we may feel better, as may the other person, and our relationships may improve. It may be helpful to revisit the definition of mindfulness that we use in the Mindfulness Center: Intentional present-moment nonjudgmental awareness with kindness.  If we are not paying attention, when we interact with others we may react negatively and be critical and judgmental without even noticing it.  This happens automatically, outside of our conscious awareness, based on how our past experiences influence our perceptions.  These influences are pervasive.
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Cultivating Kindness for Ourselves

Cultivating kindness is central to practicing mindfulness.  A definition of mindfulness that we use in the Mindfulness Center is “intentional nonjudgmental present moment awareness with kindness”.  Why is kindness so important?  Being with our own present moment experience can be hard, and practicing kindness toward ourselves can facilitate our ability to do this.  There are times when we may be feeling stressed, or upset with ourselves for something we have or have not done, or we may be upset with someone else.  If we pay attention to our present moment experience, we may notice that we are feeling anxious, or guilty, or angry.  These can all be difficult emotions, and we may want to turn away, to distract ourselves, to do anything else but be with what we are feeling.  Yet mindfulness is about being with whatever is arising in the moment, whether it is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. 
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Resting in the Present Moment

A definition of mindfulness that we use in the Mindfulness Center is “intentional nonjudgmental present-moment awareness with kindness”.   Why is there such an emphasis on paying attention to the present moment?  Because every moment we experience is a present moment.  Our lives unfold in the present moment.  When the past occurred, it was in the present moment.  When we think about the past, we are doing it in the present moment.  The same is true of the future.  Viewed from this perspective, all our experiences are in the present moment. It is easy to get caught up in wishing we could change something that occurred in the past.  Obviously this is not possible, yet we can expend a lot of energy wishing we could.
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Spring

Spring, a season of renewal, has arrived.  Renewal can mean to be renewed: to make like new; to restore to freshness and vigor.  This spring has an added sense of renewal as we emerge from yet another Covid surge and hope once again that this may be the last. Spring can provide an opportunity to find ways to restore freshness and vigor to our lives.  We might slow down to really notice what is occurring in the natural world, becoming aware of changes in the weather, of flowers or trees blooming, of the sounds of birds.  We might take this opportunity to renew relationships with family and friends, especially those that may have been affected by Covid.  We might renew our commitment to practicing mindfulness, perhaps setting aside time to meditate regularly.
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News and Notes

Virtual Meditation on the Lawn to start September 12 The University of Virginia Contemplative Sciences Center will begin the Virtual Meditation on the Lawn sessions on September 12, 2022. They…

Research Update

The Dress and Individual Differences in Perception The image of the dress that some see as blue/black and others see as gold/white elicited worldwide attention in 2015, including among many…

News and Notes

Two Mindfulness Courses Will Be Offered In Person The Fall  If conditions allow, the next Mindfulness for Healthcare Employees and Mindful Eating courses beginning in September will be taught in…

Research Update

Does Gratitude Promote Resilience During a Pandemic? Gratitude can help foster wellbeing during adversity. These researchers assessed whether gratitude might promote resilience among college students during the Covid pandemic.  As…

Research Update

Changes in Emotional Reactivity after Different Types of Mental Training Meditation-based mental training interventions show physical and mental health benefits. However, how different types of mental practice affect emotion processing…

News and Notes

The Mindfulness Center programming is on vacation for the summer and will resume with a full slate of courses in the fall.