Elli Weisbaum

Mindfulness for Life

When I decided to pursue a PhD I was told over and over again that it would be overwhelming, isolating and painful. My response? No thanks! First of all, there isn't anything I choose to do in my life that I would describe in those ways. Secondly, the topic of my thesis is mindfulness - so pursuing a PhD on this topic with this framing just didn't make sense to me. But the more I was told this, the more it made me wonder what a mindful PhD might look like. Mindfulness is not only the focus of my research, but an integral part of my life. The practice is woven into the fabric of everything I do. For me, integrating mindfulness into the meta approach of pursuing my PhD seemed not only natural, but also ethical and imperative for my mental health. The aspiration behind this blog is to bring awareness for myself to this journey and to share the experience of attempting to navigate a PhD on mindfulness with mindfulness. This isn't to claim that I will never suffer or experience being overwhelmed, isolated and in pain during this process - but it is to set an intention to meet these feelings with kindness and care and to transform them so that I can also experience joy and happiness as part of this 5 year adventure.

Harmony of schedule

Finding the middle way amongst many moving parts…

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Starting off 2018 with a few too many moving parts…I am currently working on the study design for my thesis project so we can submit it to the SickKids Hospital REB (Research Ethics Review Board), finishing up my PhD course work, finishing the second half of the Search Inside Yourself Teacher Training, research coordinating on the next addition of Dan Siegel’s  book “The Developing Mind” and acting as director for the annual A Mindful Society Conference. Beautiful, wonderful, shiny things that I am so grateful for but are unfortunately all happening at the same time! I am also teaching two courses on mindfulness at the University of Toronto Continuing Education faculty and flying to Tampa Florida to present at a conference on the topic of mindfulness in education. 

 
The question is, how does one physically get all of this work done while also remaining a happy, kind, engaged human being?
 

The question is, how does one physically get all of this work done while also remaining a happy, kind, engaged human being? I feel quite strongly that, while suffering is part of life, it is critically important to enjoy the work I am doing. If I’m doing all this work just to suffer through it, what’s the point?

The answer, for me at least, is to bring my full mindful awareness to the situation, allow myself to feel whatever overwhelm or exhaustion I need to process, and then come up with a structure that allows me to have a basis of solidity moving forward.

To do this I need to apply the practice of “harmony of schedule”. The practice of harmony is at the core of many Buddhist teachings. The “six harmonies” are a formal layout of practices that can be applied to communities as a way to foster healthy relationships when living together. Having a harmonious schedule is a theme that runs throughout the six harmonies. In 2017 I heard a Dharma talk at one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s centres, given by a young monastic. During his talk he shared how having a set schedule at the mindfulness centre supports harmony because the community has collectively agreed on how energy will be spent throughout the day, so this does not need to be an ongoing conversation. It also relieves the individual of needing to plan each moment or each day, instead they can “flow with the harmony of the community”.  

 
So I thought to myself, is there a way I could reduce the amount of time I am spending thinking about what I need to do, and therefore free up more time to do it?
 

This really resonated with me. As a graduate student I find myself constantly spending energy reviewing what I need to get done and trying to figure out when to do it. I find myself revising and reviewing and, what I like to call tetrising my schedule multiple times everyday. This takes up a lot of energy and time. So I thought to myself, is there a way I could reduce the amount of time I am spending thinking about what I need to do, and therefore free up more time to do it? 

When I stepped back and looked deeply into my daily and weekly schedule, I also saw that I had a need to find time to break from screens to support my sleep, mental health and personal relationships. For full harmony of schedule I decided that work, rest, fun and food all needed to be account for.

To create a harmonious schedule I sat down and identified areas that could use some specific structure to allow for more ease throughout each day. Below is the list I am attempting to apply a daily/weekly schedule to in order to have more spaciousness. 

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Sept 23rd, 2018…backdated post update: I wrote this post in January 2018 and then never posted it. Ironically, this post is about how I was way too busy the first half of 2018 - which is why it has taken me so long to edit and post this. The good news is this blog is about practicing mindfulness, which inherently is also about being kind and gentle to oneself. Therefore I am recognizing my suffering over not updating my blog earlier, smiling to it and letting it go. It has been a beautiful but intense year so far. I am doing the best I can with what I have and letting go of the rest. Hope you enjoy this post and the other back dated updates I am curating today. 




Suggested Practice: Mindfulness of Screens 

If this seems impossible try a pilot study on yourself just for 2-3 days and see how it feels!  

Exercise: Mindfulness of Screens

Step 1: select a time of night that you feel would be good to attempt to stop looking at screens (computer, phone, tv etc). I personally recommend choosing a time just before you eat dinner.

Step 2: select a place in your home where you will plug in your devices at this time that is separate from where you will be eating/sleeping (if you use your phone as your alarm it can go to it’s nighttime spot at this time)

Step 3: set a reminder at the time you have chosen (an alarm of some kind).  

Step 4: action the plan! Each day when your reminder goes off plug all your devices into their nighttime spots and stop looking at them! You may also like to set an intention for when you start looking at them again, either after you brush your teeth or after breakfast or not until you get to the office or workplace. If you do need to check the device again after the stopping time, do it with full mindfulness awareness. Intentionally walk over to the device and notice how it feels before, during and after checking it. 

Extra tips:

  • It is helpful if everyone in the household support this practice and does it together 

  • Have some plans in place for what you will do in the evening instead of looking at screens (board games, puzzles, conversations etc.)

  • Be kind to yourself and know that it isn’t about doing it perfectly, but about experimenting on yourself and offering yourself the gift of rest and space from devices and screens 




Elli Weisbaum