Tag Archives: consciousness

Bias in human evolution

project implicitA friend of mine recently posted a very personal story of his pain at the discovery of his own implicit bias despite having married a woman of color. The Implicit Bias Test is something you can take if you want to explore bias in yourself. I was touched by his admission but it made me realize that people still have a lot of unnecessary guilt about bias. I wanted to write about it because I realize so many probably suffer shame on this front.

Dr. Heidi Grant, a psychologist who presented to our Women’s Leadership annual conference last August, explained to us that bias is human. It is a part of our brains that is wired for us to be able to make decisions quickly and have shortcuts to protect our safety. So to feel guilty about it not necessary. Neuroscience has showed that there is a biological basis for bias.

So the idea that we can somehow get rid of bias is not practical. What we need to do is develop awareness of the biases that we have, so we can take action making decisions more fairly. One method that worked for orchestras, that traditionally hired men due to implicit bias, was to put up a screen so that the performer could not be seen during the audition. This played a role in getting many more women into competitive orchestras.

As a manager, one way to reduce bias is in hiring from a pool of candidates, and have only one candidate of a diverse origin, and say three other candidates you are interviewing, you are very unlikely to hire the diverse candidate. If you have just one other person of that minority (be in gender, race, etc) the likelihood that you will give everyone a fair shot increases substantially. Another way to reduce bias is to have a structured list of questions, and to ask the same questions to all candidates.

A number of studies have shown us how diversity drives innovation. And innovation is what drives economic growth. From a perspective of someone who has lost their job due to increased automation, that may not provide much comfort. Indeed, part of our problem is that our “free market” rewards the innovators much more than workers. That unfortunately leads to further polarization of resources, and exacerbates the distance between “haves” and have-nots” in our country.

While there is a systemic good arising from a more diverse society, recognized at many levels of corporate and government leadership (though not by the U.S. President, unfortunately), there are challenges as well. In order to address these challenges, we are required to evolve our own consciousness, as humans, to be able to fully use all the talents and capabilities we have. This is no easy task.

I often worry if the behavior in this country will degrade substantially while we have rhetoric that devalues whole categories or nations of people. We have seen some evidence that this may be true. But it also forces us to have some honest discussions about our future, and about what kind of society we want to build. I am reminded that a majority of the country does not agree with the President, and is working for positive change.

I am reminded that those of us who have privilege in this very digital economy need to pay attention to the people who have been left out since the 1980’s when the gap in the middle class began to widen substantially. We have many examples in history when this has led to disaster. This has led to scapegoating and devaluation of human life at many points in human history.

This awareness and consciousness of bias and privilege must be at the forefront of our thinking about solutions to this “great divide.” We can no longer ignore the suffering of so many people, and build ourselves into little cul-de-sacs of isolated individuals and families. Our well-being depends on a social fabric which must hold us together.

We must talk with people with whom we do not agree, learn from them, strive to understand their perspectives. I believe this is the only way to repair the rifts that have grown in our political life. We cannot afford to remain in our little echo chambers, in dialogue only with people with whom we agree.

I am beginning to look for those opportunities to engage with people that may hold different opinions from mine. Not just online, but in person and face to face. They are not easy to find, but I am fairly certain our survival as a species on this earth depends on realizing we are in this together.

 

 

 

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Home control disease

Do you have home control disease?

This is another concept I learned from Tiffany Dufu’s book Drop the Ball. I already passed it along to a colleague that I thought could benefit from the book. I may have to re-buy it… So many great lessons and stories that she told in the book that really resonated with me when I read it last year, so I will share another in this post.

There is a link to a short summary piece about home control disease here. Or if you look up Tiffany Dufu on You-Tube, she has a bunch of really interesting short videos. I will summarize and add my take on the issue. I am so enamored of the minimalist concept, and yet I live with someone else, so I struggle with how much I want to control, versus how much I need to let go.

I used to live with someone who was a slob. He owned a huge house and would allow piles of junk to accumulate in the corners, and just ignore them. He might be considered a hoarder if he had a small home. Hoarding is usually cast as a “lower class” behavior, so we do not normally think of people with large houses as hoarders. They have so much more space than the average person. So if they have rooms that are reserved for books, or a room that is called a “parlour” then it does not seem to matter. If they have a room that is piled with junk, over which they throw a sheet when company comes over, they may be viewed as eccentric. But they are not labeled hoarders, because they are middle-class people with college degrees. I digress.

drop the ball

Anyway, I’ve been determined NEVER to live up to the stereotype of Latina housewife, who cooks and cleans for everyone. So I cultivate a well-practiced habit of ignoring messes at home. One might think this makes me a slob. I don’t encourage you to ask my husband… he probably would agree.  😉

Learning to ignore the mess means I could avoid becoming the default “cleaning lady” for that former house-mate.  I certainly tried to keep my own possessions and areas neat so I could function in those spaces, and not to contribute to the overflow of junk. Having a.d.d. makes it a bit harder for me to focus unless I have an orderly space in which to function. I am a little embarrassed to admit I currently have a spare bedroom at home that I aspire to use as an office. But right now It is too full of stuff: boxes, books and random things I want to clear out this year. I work from the dining room when I work at home.

Common spaces like the kitchen are shared, which means I take turns at doing dishes or clearing the counters. I’m the one who usually takes out the garbage and recycling because it bothers me a lot more to see those pile up. I also tend to do the laundry. Since I have the option of working at home a couple days a week, and it seems pretty easy to throw in a load while here, or fold when I take a break from work. But:

Making the bed = optional, not done most days

Vacuuming the carpet = optional (did we do this sometime in the last two months?)

Dusting = optional.

Full disclosure: we both work full-time and do not have children. So our income allows us to have a cleaning service come in once a month for a couple hours of cleaning in the kitchen, bathroom and living room. It was a promise I made to myself when he moved in 3 years ago that I would NOT be the housemaid, and that we would spend some money getting help, since I did not want to be stuck with it all.

But I still find myself taking responsibility for household tasks probably more than my husband does. It is a default switch for me that I am working to change.Maybe women feel like we cannot be in control at work very often. Especially if we work in corporations with large amounts of bureaucratic junk we have to shovel. So we want to be in control SOMEWHERE. And home is the place that society considers our “domain.” Ugh.

But what if we recognized our home control disease and learned to live with some amount of mess? What if we dropped the ball and let others pick it up? And if they do not pick it up, then is it really a requirement? If living in a neat house is more important to us than to our partners, perhaps we need to negotiate and work together as a team.

If my suspicions are correct, more women than men are judged over having a messy house. If a guy has a messy place, he’s a “bachelor.” If a couple has a messy home, then she is the one blamed for the state of affairs. It is not fair. For sure. But I would suggest living with some level of mess may be an adaptive strategy when we live with others, unless we share the chore.

Try it. Tell me what you think. Is there more or less conflict in your life when you give up home control disease?

 

 

Flowing vs Overflowing

Do you ever have a sense of marvelous ease in your day? A sense that you are in a “flow state” and things are proceeding exactly as they should. You just ride along as the current carries you.

You look up hours later and realize you have been so engaged in a task that you have lost awareness of time, and maybe it’s already dark out. Or you suddenly realize you are hungry, but you were absorbed in something so deeply that you did not notice at the time. It is kind of a beautiful experience for someone like me (or maybe you?) who struggle with distractions.

But how often to we achieve this state? How often do we give ourselves the opportunity to do uninterrupted work? How often do we single-task, instead of spreading out our focus?

deep-work-cover.jpg

According to Cal Newport, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, we do not do this nearly enough. When I first read the book summary, presented by my “GetAbstract” subscription at work, I felt immediate resonance with the concept. Then I heard an interview with him on the Hidden Brain podcast last July, and I knew I would need to figure out how to do more deep work in my career.

In the age of social media, overflowing email boxes and communications technologies like WhatsApp and Jabber (my company’s instant messaging platform), it is a challenge indeed. But I like a challenge. And I think the ability to focus deeply and intentionally on things we care about is worth it. Some may argue that this is what makes a happy life.

So how do we make that more possible? For me, it has involved cutting WAY back on my daily consumption of social media. I used to turn on my phone in bed in the morning, read facebook posts and the news from the coziness of my bed (it was -12F when I got up this morning -26F with windchill – ugh). Then I would usually open up the email, first personal and then work to see if there were any urgent items.

This would put me into “reactive” mode, taking in all of this information before even giving myself a chance to truly wake up. Not the best way to start the day. That practice shifted to consuming podcasts rather than FB and news about a year ago. I decided my emotional state was not equipped to consume news in the same way I used to devour it daily. I really love public radio, and I still listen sometimes in the car on the way to or from work.

We all have choices about what we do, and how we engage with the world. It is pretty mind-blowing to realize we have more control over our thoughts and emotions once we learn to separate them out from circumstances. Learning this has helped me understand when my “anger” button has been activated, or in neuroscience terms, the amygdala. Anger can be a useful emotion, when we are fighting injustice, but rage tends to be destructive. Fear can be a useful emotion, when we are outrunning a predator or facing a potentially dangerous situation, but panic is rarely helpful.

So I choose to cut back. I need to keep flowing, keep working toward things I believe in. I work toward more peace, more justice, more access to the rights and freedoms I enjoy for more people. Overflowing with inputs, distractions, material possessions, entertainment, and other “over” indulgences does not serve me. So I make deliberate choices about how to spend my time.

Distractions may always be a factor for me. My mind runs and plays like a puppy, roaming around, picking up random scents and running down those trails. But that is also conditioned behavior, following the urge of distraction. And it can be unlearned with practice, thankfully. My meditation and yoga practices are teaching me that.

May you be clear-headed and focused today. May you engage in whatever deep and important work you are doing right now, with full mind and heart. Thank you for reading, and now go get back to your creative effort. Namaste.

 

Un-buffering your life

We are often taught that going “outside our comfort zone” is where the most growth happens. I believe this is true, to a large extent. Our human species evolved to seek comfort or pleasure and avoid pain. These impulses largely kept us alive, along with developing communities which could provide protection and safety in a wild world.

bird rising watercolor

But as humans evolved to go beyond our basic necessities, we must also evolve in our consciousness. We must make different choices beyond survival day-to-day in order to respect the long-term sustainability of ourselves and of our planet. I write this knowing that many people around the world lack clean water, or sufficient food to eat, and I am aware of my privilege in writing these words.

The practice of creativity and if making things purely for own pleasure is one magnificent part of our existence. Whether composing songs, decorating one’s home, writing a story, or playing with color on canvas, we are a species that delights in using our imagination and creating something from nothing.

Liz Gilbert writes and speaks so elegantly of this in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear and in her podcast Magic Lessons. I am grateful to have re-discovered her work, along with uncovering the Joy Diet book I have by Martha Beck last fall. Also around that time I found the work of Brené Brown on vulnerability and courage, Daring Greatly among them, but I recommend any of her books.

As I confronted my habits of “buffering” my emotions through alcohol, food, over-working, etc, I realized that I needed to slow everything down. Right before I reached for that drink, or chocolate, or “buy” button to get myself out of my feeling of discomfort, I needed to pay attention to what was going on in my body.

tissue healing watercolor

Typically what I discovered was that an uncomfortable emotion was present. It might be loneliness or fear. It might be a response to avoidance I had about doing certain tasks at work, or anticipating a difficult conversation and not knowing how I wanted to speak my truth, while respecting another person.

Mostly what I found is that I used my buffers to avoid or resist the truth that I was feeling in my own body. When I learned some tools like meditation and yin yoga to help me get “comfortable with discomfort” I realized that I could sit with a feeling and just experience it all the way through, without resisting it and without attaching to it.

Once I acknowledge the emotion, named it and thoroughly sense where it resided in my body, I can move on, and not let it hijack me or my behavior. But that process of slowing down, feeling an emotion all the way through, without reaching for my phone, something in the fridge, or some other distraction, has radical implications.

Paying attention and becoming fully aware of what is happening not just around me but within me feels like a “magic” tool. I accept things as they are, embrace the suck, or just note when I feel fear, uncertainty, doubt, rage or discomfort. That allows me to examine what thoughts and stories feed these feelings.

variable infinities

When I back up and understand that emotional and physical cascade that resulted from certain thoughts, I can question whether those thoughts are even true. Sometimes I can do this from a “thought download” or a hand-written journal I use daily to get out all the junk that piles up in my curious monkey mind. Other times, it is locked in there pretty deeply, so I use some other medium, like pastels or watercolors to tease it out.

I joke with my husband that these always turn out like 2nd grade art projects (I posted some examples today). They are not really for anyone but me, but at the same time, they sometimes give me clues to what is really going on in my psyche. Words can do this for me, but sometimes they fail me. That logical, rational, ego-driven part of my mind can protect me mightily from my inner truth.

The ego knows some truths may be painful, and require me to make certain changes in my life, definitely stepping outside the comfortable world I know. Since my brain is trying its best to take care of me, to keep me ensconced in safety, it does what it knows best, seek pleasure and avoid pain.

after the rain watercolor

And yet, this is not the path where personal and spiritual growth happens. Often it takes a painful life event to get us to a place where we MUST make some change. Sometimes there is a powerful realization within us that we have become too comfortable. In my past, I find that I tend to “make trouble” for myself when things are a little too comfortable.

Looking back, I see how many times I was running from something, rather than facing up to it. Or how many times I tried to avoid my discomfort and fear, by keeping myself from know some truth that was billowing up within me. I feared as soon as I acknowledged it, I would need to change MY WHOLE LIFE and would disrupt my loved ones’ lives around me. I did not realize I could take action steps toward what was next, at a pace that worked for me.

Sometimes we must leap into the fire and destroy the previous life (or lie) we have lived, if it was not authentic to the essence of our being, who we really are. And I believe sometimes this fire burns from within, and allows us to rise from the ashes of our prior belief systems which no longer work for us.

As we un-buffer, and become comfortable with discomfort, we develop courage and determination to rise up and do what our soul calls us to do. May you, dear reader, slow down and know when your buffers are getting in the way of your highest purpose.

 

 

Yin and Yang

As I was on the mat yesterday for my favorite yin yoga class, I could not help thinking about the practice of “yin” which in yoga terms means surrender. We spend so much time pushing forward, trying to be productive and striving to accomplish things. The culture in which I live promotes and supports that.  It is all about action and results, the yang side of the balance. But what I love about yin practice, is that it complements all of the yang activity that I normally do.

In doing the research for this piece I encountered a nice little video from “Ed Ted” that you may enjoy if you are interested in learning more about the Taoist concept of yin and yang. It is only 4 minutes and really quite beautiful. For example, the inside space of a cup is “yin” but the cup itself is “yang.” Each side contains the seed of the other within it.

The Tao is the power or the way of the universe. Living in harmony with the way means we do not have to fight with the universe’s natural flow. Listen more; argue less. Be ready to back up or undo something and you will make even faster progress. Don’t worry about being the best; be who you are. The wise person is flexible. The Tao Te Ching has even more wisdom in it, and when I read it years ago, some parts of it resonated with me, while others I was not ready to understand. I will probably return to it now, as I feel like I have been in a period of yang in my life generally. However, the yin beckons to me and I realize that I have not been living in the most sustainable balance.

Yin Yang Wikipedia image

One of my favorite yoga teachers, Ruth Silva, has said in some classes:  there is no hurry. And this echoes another mantra that I often use when I meditate: “I have time for everything I need to do today.” When we tell ourselves we are too busy, then we live that way. When we acknowledge that, technically, all we need to do to stay alive in this moment is breathe, we are telling the truth.  And everything we do beyond that is a choice. There is no need to “spin” into tales of woe and self-pity about what we “need” to do. Instead, we can be honest about many of the actions (or non-actions) in our life as choices we make. The choices have consequences, but when we are honest with ourselves, we can see so much more open space in our lives.

I was feeling “stuck” the other day in my job, wondering what would be next, getting annoyed over the tasks I thought I “had to do” and wishing I could be somewhere else, or do something else. Granted, I have been contemplating a change for quite some time now, moving outside the corporate world to work in a way that allows me to fully engage my creativity. But then I realized that, when I allow myself to see ways to apply creativity to some of the challenges I face every day, it opens my soul to the possibilities to act right in the moment where I exist.

It is about balance, finding that yin that co-exists within the yang. I know that my own life affords me much privilege to do work that I enjoy, and get paid a fair amount for it. For that I am profoundly grateful. I also know that rest and renewal are a necessity for my work to be high-quality, which is why I never leave vacation days on the table… As I consider my Friday yang activities in anticipation of the yin of the weekend, I wish you peaceful surrender and plenty of rest.

 

Mindful return to daily life

Sunset on Isla Holbox

Sunset on Isla Holbox, a favorite vacation spot in Mexico

Returning from vacation is always bittersweet. The lovely days of enjoying the time without a focus on schedules, plans, to-do lists and routine activities can be hypnotic. I treasure the restoration that accompanies this slow and easy life that allows one to appreciate the luxury that is time, and the abundance that is our life.

When I return to work, I sometimes struggle with keeping the composure that seems to accompany “island time” while on vacation. We visited Isla Holbox while on a brief honeymoon trip after our wedding. It was a location we had visited before, 2 1/2 years ago during February. This time, it was hotter and more humid (77F dewpoint), so that forced me to go much slower than the pace I usually move. Never a fan of heat and humidity, I treasure the crisp autumn weather in Minnesota. But in any case, the island temperature called us to slow down, to walk more mindfully and to adjust our overall pace.

For many years I have been a runner, and in the past couple of years have focused more on developing my yoga practice as a component to living a more mindful, intentional and conscious life. While I still enjoy running and it helps me calm myself in some ways, I realize that slowing down is also a necessary and vital component of my wellness and vitality. Tuning into that “frequency” deep within, that is so easily drowned out by so many other noises in the outer world has become fundamental, not optional, to the way I choose to live.

In returning to work after the wedding and the vacation trip, I am realizing that this is when the “rubber hits the road” as far as putting that mindful, slower, intentional practice to work in my life. Retreats from the world and from the daily routines can help us re-establish a rhythm that is more amenable to those quieter forces within us that wake up only when we really listen. And to listen, we must sometimes turn off the outside influences that may appeal to our minds and our desires for more knowledge, more data, more connections in our neural networks. But in the same way that pruning the old, dead blossoms from a flowering plant helps the other flowers to flourish, our minds seem to require this pruning.

By meditating, and for me this means watching my thoughts come and go, I am able to give myself that necessary quiet space to allow for greater growth in the long-term. Now that it has become a daily practice (sometimes for as much as an hour, but more often, as little as 5-15 minutes) I have begun to understand, and just lightly “taste” the benefits, while opening to new insights. Yesterday while traveling home a number of different situations presented themselves that in the past may have caused anxiety, but I was able to handle them gracefully. I am far from perfect, but I am learning to see how this practice can help me bring some of that vacation mindset back to my daily life and to my work.

Martha Beck recommends a practice of “vacation from predation” which I believe comes from her book, The Four-Day Win. I am paraphrasing and giving my interpretation of this, but what it means to me is to realize that whatever stress we may be feeling, most of us, at any given moment are presently safe. I realize this reflects privilege to say this, and indeed there are many instances when people are not safe, but there is also so much stress and suffering that are added by our minds, by our thoughts about whatever is our current situation. It is actually those thoughts, not the situation itself which cause anxiety and stress. The situations themselves are neutral and to a large extent we can choose our reaction to them. We can observe our emotions and become aware of our thoughts and then realize that the “stories” we use to interpret, filter and process those situations are what drive and feed those emotions.

As I return to my email inbox, the appointments that will pop up on my calendar and the responsibilities of my day-to-day life, I will strive to remember this wisdom and to practice compassion for myself when I do sometimes over-react. My amygdala is trained and has its habits, which require some re-training.  I also have better tools to calm these over-reactions and to keep events in perspective. This makes me profoundly grateful.