Mindfulness is More than Stacking Rocks

Zion National Park in Utah warns ‘vandals’ are eroding shorelines and endangering wildlife. Meanwhile, Nascar racers learn mindfulness techniques for the Mercedes Formula One. Catch up with the latest news in mindfulness.

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Mindful lawyers and lawmakers

A professional association for lawyers in the UK announced in November that it will “offer facilities” for members to practice mindfulness, following a trend in legal circles throughout the UK and abroad. British Parliament has offered mindfulness training for members since 2014, as does Swedish Parliament. The American Bar Association advocates for the practice, even publishing a book about it in 2016. 

Sipping on mindfulness 

What would you do for a cup of tea? San Francisco’s Samovar Teahouse offers “mindfulness tea” at no charge, if you agree to drink it mindfully. That means no using your phone and no chatting, and simply sipping for 60 whole minutes. Owner Jesse Jacobs, a longtime meditator, says he sees it sparking curiosity around mindfulness, though not all customers are eager to dive in and try it. “As a social experiment, it’s brought people’s consciousness up to the challenge,” says Jacobs, “so they can start by asking, Why is this practice difficult for me?

Stacked rocks: a not-so-mindful cliché

A go-to symbol for mindfulness, meditation, and all things contemplative, stacked rocks may not be so mindful after all. This seemingly benign, Instagram-friendly activity can have destructive effects on sensitive ecosystems. While stacking rocks is a traditional practice in several cultures, including Native American, Scottish, and Scandinavian, in recent years it has become a social-media-fuelled phenomenon that, in a Facebook post from September 2018, the Zion National Park in Utah referred to as “vandalism.” More than that, the post explained, the practice can harm wildlife and contribute to the erosion of shorelines. Perhaps it’s time we practice letting the rocks be.

Racing cars, not racing minds

The Mercedes Formula One racing team’s got a secret weapon for staying ahead of the pack in the past several seasons. You guessed it: mindfulness. The team is close to matching Ferrari’s record of six straight drivers’ and constructors’ championships. The team’s CEO, Toto Wolff, says mindfulness is a key way that team members can do “a better job than their opposite number at Ferrari.”  

Is technology changing our hands?

For most of human history, we used our hands to cut and shape and measure and sculpt our way through the world. In the age of computers and robotics, we use our fingers less and in fewer ways, which has caused Roger Kneebone, professor of surgical education at Imperial College, London, to posit that due to a lack of “craft skills” his students have less ability in the cutting and stitching involved in surgery. Time for a new “digital” revolution?

Everybody’s doing it!

More Americans are meditating than ever. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 4.1% of the adult population reported doing it in 2012 compared to 14.2% in 2017, an increase that outpaced even yoga.

UK adds mental health minister 

On World Mental Health Day in October 2018, the UK government appointed health minister Jackie Doyle-Price to the role of Minister for Mental Health, Inequalities and Suicide Prevention. With 1 in 8 children and youth in the UK experiencing mental health issues, Doyle-Price will oversee the training of “mental health support teams” to work with young people in schools. The government will also partially fund the Samaritans’ free crisis hotline over the next four years. 

Cows can have resilience, too 

People handle stress in different ways—and so do cows, according to a recent study. PhD students in an animal welfare program at the University of British Columbia found calves’ ability to cope with typical stressors in dairy-cow life can vary significantly. Some calves showed signs of optimism and resilience, while others tended toward pessimism or fearfulness. 

Acts of Kindness

Uber driver Kasim Eldilemi spotted an injured hawk while driving along the multilane FDR Drive in New York City. So he threw on his emergency blinkers, pulled over, took the bird to his car, and drove his passenger to Brooklyn with the hawk under his arm. He then found police, who brought the bird to a rehabilitation center.

Poker champion Scott Wellenbach has been donating his winnings to charity since 2010. A regular meditator now in his sixties, Wellenbach recently won his biggest jackpot to date—$671,240—and will give it all to charities including Oxfam and Doctors Without Borders.

21-year-old medical student Hamzah Selim was at a London Tube station heading home from an anatomy lecture when he heard a woman scream. He rushed over to find her in labor, and used what he’d learned in school to help deliver the baby on the spot.

People to Watch: Kathy Flynn-Somerville

Lack of focus, bullying, teachers stretched too thin—these are just a few of the challenges inspiring schools across the country to bring mindfulness into the classroom. Among those leading the charge is Kathy Flynn-Somerville. A classroom teacher for over 25 years, she is on special assignment from Pittsburgh Public Schools, demonstrating and teaching mindfulness at all 54 K–12 schools in the district. 

“When I go into a school, I’m trying to reach the entire school with each visit,” Flynn-Somerville says. She meditates with up to 300 students daily, returning for 10 to 12 sessions per school, a schedule that has made her presence familiar and welcome all over the city. When the school day ends, she has facilitated sessions with teachers and district staff. In addition to helping teachers manage the stresses of their demanding jobs, the extra sessions help them model mindful behavior for their students.

Upward of 90% of students say trying mindfulness has helped them in some way—to manage strong emotions, to be more kind, to focus better in school.

That may all sound a bit hectic, but it’s working: The early results of the multi-year project speak for themselves. In research she’s conducted, Flynn-Somerville has found upward of 90% of students say trying mindfulness has helped them in some way—to manage strong emotions, to be more kind, to focus better in school. And nearly half have taught friends or family members how to do it.  

The goal of Flynn-Somerville’s work is to shift school cultures toward greater compassion, or as she says, simply “humanness.” In the meantime, her job keeps her firmly planted in the challenges at hand. “At the end of every day, I’m pretty exhausted,” she says. “But this has become the most important work of my career so far. I’m so happy to be doing it.”