Friday, 28 February 2014

Day 50: Buddhism is uber confusing

What went well? 

  1. Had a really productive positive psychology lab meeting, where we made progress on making decisions about the study design of a new intervention that we're going to pilot. I'll basically be trying to draft up a detailed methods section next week.
  2. Saw my intro Buddhism professor briefly to ask some questions about Buddhist ideas about rebirth. It was simultaneously helpful yet confusing, but nonetheless a stimulating & enjoyable discussion. It's one of those subjects, I guess...
  3. Went to a Philomathean society meeting, and the main presentation & all of the mini-presentations by prospective members were all very high-quality. 

What did I learn? 

  • There's going to be another person joining our positive psychology lab, who has a background in marketing, social media, project management etc. She's a professional who now has an interest in positive psychology so wants to volunteer to help the post-doc we're working with out! This seems to be such an American thing. People are so willing to give so much of their time and expertise for free to gain experience over here, whereas it seems like that's not something that generally occurs to people in Australia and New Zealand. I'm really looking forward to meeting her.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Day 49: Bracing myself for #focus days

What went well? 

  1. Met with the post-doc I'm research assisting for, and while I was there at the positive psychology centre, a MAPP student invited me to get lunch with her at Han Dynasty next door (highly recommended!), so I did. It was such a pleasure to meet her and we had an awesome conversation. I really appreciated the chance to get to know her story and aspirations. Positive, passionate and interesting people are awesome.
  2. Watched an interesting film in Contemplative Sciences today. It was about the Mindful Schools project, where they brought mindfulness to a really troubled middle school. It was fascinating and touching to see the transformation in the kids - they were literally CRAZY at the start, needing constant entertainment, distraction, and annoying each other, but eventually began to find mindfulness useful in their own lives. Really powerful stuff.

What did I learn? 

  • Went to a Philo event, an informal conversation with a professor. Tbh, it was a bit toooo informal and dragged on for ages, but, I did come away with a few ideas. One of them was that he thinks that one of the biggest trends to come will be a push towards open data from research, which will improve both transparency and efficiency of scientific research as it allows anyone to check your work and reanalyse the data to create more knowledge.
  • I'll be auditioning (well, technically it's more of a "casting call" because I don't think they'll actually reject anyone since it's a pretty self-selected group) for Opera Scenes Saturday 4.50pm! Wish me luck.
  • The next few weeks are going to start heating up, I think, in terms of academic workload. I'm surprised how long it's taken to get to this point in the semester though! Normally I'd start feeling time pressure around week 4 at UniMelb, whereas it's already week 7 here and only now am I starting to actually have deadlines come up. Intro Buddhism mid-term on Wednesday, Sociology of Education mid-term starts Monday & ends Monday after Spring Break (but I'm away for most of spring break), and I really need to push forward with my two research papers for Intro Buddhism & Contemplative Sciences if I don't want to be completely screwed in a few weeks' time. So, the first weekend of Spring Break before I go away has been blocked out on my calendar as such: 
  • Obviously, I will not just be getting stuff done all day in a machine-like fashion. But the point is to psychologically prepare myself to focus!

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Day 48: Adam Grant's guest lecture

What went well? 

  1. Professor Adam Grant gave a guest lecture during positive psychology today. It was pretty surreal to be given a lecture by one of my "academic heroes", whose work I admire so much. Appreciated the brief opportunity I had to express my gratitude to him afterwards too.
  2. Professor Grant autographing someone's book. #celebrity
  3. Had a really nice philosophical conversation with a fellow exchange student at my dorm. We were talking about education as investments, and how that isn't the attitude in France.
  4. Had a lovely Skype chat with my friend from wayyyy back, Sam, who's at Indiana Wesleyan University. We're going to try and catch up over Easter and go see the Amish lands in Pennsylvania.

What did I learn? 

  • According to an exchange student, there's a law in France that basically says that everyone has the right to work no more than 35 hours a week. What?
  • I am still trying to develop tolerance for discomfort, namely while pondering difficult questions about Buddhism. Procrastination happens when I feel like it's too hard. #deliberatepractice #grit
  • Adam Grant was one of the first students to ever take an undergraduate course in positive psychology when he was back at Harvard. He thought it was fascinating but also hated it because he felt that positive psychology was too much about the individual, "me", what goes on inside my head, my experiences, and he was more interested in what makes up most of our life - our interactions with other people. Hence, he went into research on prosocial behaviour.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Day 47: It's good to give

What went well? 

  1. Worked on developing my "giver" tendencies, by giving my time this morning to help people out. It is rewarding, especially being able to use and develop my specific skills (psychology, research methods, statistics) to give effectively. I definitely look forward to doing lots of pro-bono skills-based consulting in the future. On a related note, Professor Adam Grant, author of Give and Take (which inspired me to want to give more) is giving a guest lecture tomorrow during positive psychology!!! Super, super excited.
  2. Had a productive singing practice, working on my presentation. Working on being more comfortable/natural with my hand gestures, because at the moment they look slightly artificial.
  3. Booked accommodation for Spring Break. Even better, my friend managed to secure us two nights in DC at her friend's place! So that was great news.
  4. Prepared most of my answer for one of the 4 possible essay questions for my intro Buddhism mid-term. I have to say, I was quite overwhelmed at the questions, because they're actually all pretty tough and require quite a bit of close reading and also creativity and understanding. In other words, it's a really well-written exam. But it's manageable, with preparation.
  5. Heating in Stouffer just got fixed!! It's been out for the past 24 hours or so, and I have been wearing my puffer jacket inside because it's been that cold.

What did I learn? 

  • When unproductive, I may as well take a nap. I was more-or-less cognitively non-functional (being tired and a bit sick) between 3.30-6pm today, and really did not get anything done, but still tried! = pseudostudying. Listen to your natural rhythms and waves of energy throughout the day.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Day 46: Sleeeeep

What went well? 

  1. Had an awesome singing lesson today. We worked on Mozart's Ach Ich Fühl's (Pamina's aria from The Magic Flute), and communicating and staging it. It was really helpful since I'm planning to sing it for my casting call for Opera Scenes this weekend.
  2. Intro to Buddhism was awesome and intense as usual. I've never had a professor who's been quite so...dramatic. Literally, he acts out all the stories he tells. And it is so effective.

What did I learn? 

  • Even one night of insufficient sleep (6.5 hours rather than 7.5 or 8 hours) is enough to give me headaches! Sleep is always important.
  • On the "acting" side of singing: If the audience can't see your eyes, they get disconnected. I was looking down because Pamina's pretty dejected in this song, but really I should be looking just over the audience (it's also awkward for them to make eye contact).
  • Various stories in Buddhism:
    • Kisa Gotami, a woman who went mad after her baby died and went from hut to hut in a village asking for medicine for the dead baby. Eventually she got to the Buddha, who told her that he had medicine, but she needed to bring him mustard seeds from a hut where the family had never experienced death. Kisa Gotami went from hut to hut and learned that there was SO MUCH SUFFERING AND PAIN in every single family, that everyone goes through it, not just her. The point was that it is difficult to show warmth (Karuna) when you are in pain, unless you can understand that you share pain with others, so that instead of creating two separate selves, you share a mutual understanding.
    • Some monk made a vow to meditate until he achieved awakening. He tried for 12 years, then another 12 years, then another 12 years. Nothing. Resigned, he left the cave and stumbled upon a dying dog with maggots eating out a wound. He wanted to get the maggots off the dog, but didn't want to spoil their fun either. So, he made a gash in his own shoulder and decided to transfer the maggots to his own wound, but then, it occurred to him that the maggots might get cold on the way. So, he transferred them with his TONGUE (ew!!!!!), and at that moment, the dog transformed into the Buddha (I know right, what?!), and the monk achieved awakening because the point was that you can only get so far if you only pay attention to yourself, if you only have compassion for yourself. Awakening requires serving others, no matter who they are. It requires indifference in this regard.
  • I want to cultivate Karuna (warmth/love). I think this is the element of kindness that I need to work on most. It's easy to be compassionate towards the "needy", but it's not so easy to be warm all the time to everyone on a day-to-day basis, without distinction of "worthiness".

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Day 45: Awesome + ermahgahhd

What went well? 

  1. Had the best day ever today hanging out with a friend. We bought rush tickets to see Porgy & Bess, and had great conversations over Starbucks, lunch & walking back to campus. Also, singing Glee on the way back. So awesome :) And the weather was great!!!!! 12 degrees feels WARM.

  2. Part of the "Gayborhood". This is actually a thing!
    An organ in Macy's department store. A super cool building.
  3. Went to the Opera Scenes information session. It looks like a great opportunity, and I'm really excited for it. Basically, they're trying to put together a show comprised of a series of short scenes from operas. And it'll only be about an hour a week. Casting call is next week.

What did I learn? 
  • The importance of practice for any skills. I've offered to help out the founder of the Calm Clarity project with any research-related skills, which has now turned into the need for me to actually remember and use the statistical skills I learned in Research Methods for Human Inquiry last year, which are somewhat rusty now. It's a great opportunity to practice, actually. Also, it feels really cool to be able to say, yeah I can actually do that! And be able to actually apply the skills I learned. And I'm learning a lot - for example, I think we might need to use a mixed-design ANOVA, which I currently don't know how to do, so this is an opportunity to figure that out. This is definitely a stretch task for me though, hence the ermahgahhd - but this must be an example of deliberate practice in psychology! Good.
  • To look up the plot of shows before seeing them. I was sooo confused while watching Porgy and Bess because the text wasn't always clear, so didn't follow the plot that well. It was still good though!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Day 44: Pleasant surprise

What went well? 

  1. My friend invited me to a party at the LGBT centre, so being the yes person I now am on exchange, I went. It was fun hanging out even though it wasn't exactly wild. Nonetheless, there was some "interesting" dancing going on. Exhibit A: 

  2. I'd left my laundry in the dryer because I was running late to meet people. Always a bad idea. But not always, apparently?? When I got back, anticipating that my clothes would be haphazardly thrown into some corner of the laundry room, I found them neatly folded in a pile on the bench. It was an incredibly pleasant surprise. Wow. Thank you, kind and considerate Stoufferite, whoever you are!

What did I learn? 

  • A few exercises to strengthen my ankles for yoga.
  • There are genuinely considerate people here. I am inspired.
  • I can't send empty messages to the ListServ. See, I wanted to send a reminder for Stouffer yoga today, so sent an empty message with the subject: "Free Yoga! Mayer Playroom! Now!! <eom>". eom = end of message. Thought it would be parsimonious but apparently you actually have to put something in the message.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Day 43: Savouring sunsets

What went well?

  1. Got my first mid-term back for sociology of mental illness, and was pleasantly surprised by how I went!
  2. Got invited to do stuff this weekend. Possibly a party and/or a musical. Friends are good!
  3. Had a productive lab meeting. We made more progress on designing the positive portfolio study. Also, the post-doc I'm working with shared her baking with us, and I really admired the fact that she baked for her meetings despite arriving back from Australia yesterday or the day before!
  4. Watched a sunset through the windows at Stouffer. It was the first one I had watched here in Philly, and it was beautiful, and so transient - it lasted only about 2 mins after I started watching. Simple pleasures.
  5. Went to a Philomathean Society meeting and heard some really interesting 6-minute talks by prospective members. They included India's upcoming election, molecular gastronomy, how How I Met Your Mother steals from Friends, and the Brazilian hippy movement (I forget the name).

What did I learn?

  • Molecular gastronomy ($$$$$ gourmet cuisine) may use similar methods as highly processed fast-food.
  • I don't think I transferred enough money to the US and might need to do another international transfer. Why? Unexpected costs - I hadn't been planning on taking music lessons as a subject (partially subsidised; $600 for 10 lessons) or going to the mindfulness conference ($240, plus I need to book accommodation). I probably should have left a bigger cushion.
  • I've spent approximately $70 on food per week here.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Day 42: Calm Clarity

What went well?

  1. Due Quach, a social entrepreneur with an incredible life story, came to talk to our Contemplative Sciences class about her Calm Clarity Project, which is a transformative self-mastery/self-efficacy skills program based on a fusion of different contemplative traditions, positive psychology, and management and leadership. She hopes to use it to combat the disadvantages of underprivileged students. It was really interesting and inspirational to learn about her approach and mission.
  2. Practiced the loving-kindness meditation, which is an incredibly healing practice. 
  3. So nearly 2 months after writing about wanting to cultivate more kindness, I finally got around to making a spreadsheet to track my progress on cultivating character strengths. Will actually fill this out every night and see if it works. Hey, it could be a potential positive psychology intervention!

What did I learn? 

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Day 41: Spring Break is Booked!!

What went well? 

  1. Started the morning with 45 minutes of deliberate singing practice. Am really trying to work on relaxing the tongue. The process of deliberate practice itself is rewarding to me.
  2. More hilarity in my intro Buddhism lecture. While talking about the 5 precepts and intoxication, the professor demonstrated a "drunk walk", the "most focused walk in the world" (because you are completely self-absorbed - tunnel vision). It was amusing. (Also, told us that Korea is where they really drink. Plus, another badass quote: "everything you've done, I've done it and its evil cousin". Make of it what you will :P) More importantly, I felt like I gained a much more nuanced understanding of what these precepts entail. See below.
  3. Using the Notebook Method to write several permutations of my potential research question, I made more progress on my thinking for my mindfulness research paper. At this stage, I think my research question will be: What are the similarities and differences between mindfulness-based and positive psychology-based social-emotional learning (SEL) programs, and (how) can they be integrated to form a more effective SEL curriculum? So my potential working title will probably be "Mindfulness-Based Positive Education: An Integrative Approach". It's looking like a promising research direction.
  4. My tingsha bells arrived from Amazon! I'd been thinking of getting a set for my mindfulness practice for awhile now, so finally decided to go for it since I'd use them every day and eventually when leading group mindfulness sessions.
  5. Planned my Spring Break trip with my friend, and we booked our bus tickets and flights. We'll be in Washington DC 10th-11th March, Richmond, Virginia on the 12th, and spending just an afternoon in Durham, North Carolina on the 13th to visit Duke University, before I fly back to DC for my mindfulness conference on the 14th-15th. It feels great to have it all booked now! And it's always fun planning and anticipating trips with friends. Also, since I visited her in her apartment in Rodin College House, I took the opportunity to take some photos of the apartment. Rodin is one of the high rises, so it's really, really nice. If you're an exchange student, it will be highly unlikely (i.e. impossible) that you'll get a single room in a high rise, but you can still get a double.
  6. Shared lounge for a 4-person apartment.

    Shared kitchen.

What did I learn? 

  • The 5 major precepts in Buddhism are commonly translated in terms that sound a lot like the Christian commandments: "do not lie", "do not kill", "do not steal", etc. But there is so much more to the original ideas than just simply "do nots". For example, it's not simply "do not lie", but rather, to do with "abuse of speech" - being aware of the effects of your speech on others. Indeed, sometimes little untruths may be appropriate if the short-term and long-term effects justify it. Also, it is not just "do not steal", but about "abuse of possessions", which may include hoarding, exploitation, slavery, wasting, and allowing others to be poor. Once again, it's about being aware of what your possessions do and where they come from, so it encapsulates ideas about taking more than you need and accumulating things just for yourself, generosity vs selfishness, and making ethical decisions when buying things.
  • A nice quote shared by the professor in the positive psychology lecture today, on the topic of overlapping theories in psychology and yet different researchers simply ignoring the work of others: "Theories are like toothbrushes. No self-respecting psychologist would ever use somebody else's." Oh god. Unfortunately, this is too true.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Day 40: Taco Tuesday

What went well? 

  1. The Stouffer GAs organised a taco night. I was really impressed by the effort they put into preparing the food.
  2. Saw my Contemplative Sciences professor about ideas for my paper. I had in mind the topic of what role mindfulness should play in a positive education curriculum. And I am now more confused and less certain of where I'm going now, but it is a good thing because it means that my ideas have been radically challenged and that I am learning. In that way, it was actually really helpful, and I will let these ideas percolate.
  3. This email from my Intro Buddhism professor made me smile. I was amused.
    • "I trust you are well and enjoying the slightly warmer weather. I saw a worm today. I hadn't seen one in a long time. The worm, in my opinion, seemed to be enjoying her/himself. So that was good. But there is no good. That is an illusion. But I think the worm was really there. Did my mind create the worm and the very concept of good? Is weather a concept or a phenomenon? Well, maybe, hum?..."

What did I learn? 

  • Libet conducted some studies where it was experimentally demonstrated that there were unconscious electrical processes in the brain that preceded conscious decisions to perform volitional, spontaneous acts. Disturbing implications for free will - are spontaneous acts the product of free will or subconsciously predetermined by electrical impulses in our brain? Are our conscious "decisions" merely post hoc rationalisations of the inevitable?
  • The term "positive education" doesn't seem to be that popular in the US. My professor had never heard of it. Also, from our discussion, it seems like PosEd is perhaps not a new approach but just another term for social-emotional learning, which has been around for awhile. Hmmmmmmmm....what's in a name?
  • This is happening on Sunday!! I'm definitely interested in learning more!

Monday, 17 February 2014

Day 39: Eventful Mondays

What went well? 

  1. Intro Buddhism lecture. I think this was possibly one of his best yet. So mindblowingly profound and absolutely engaging.
  2. Registered for the Mindfulness in Education Network conference in March in DC. Really looking forward to it.
  3. Met up with my friend and we decided on the dates for our Spring Break trip. So far it's looking like 10th-14th March, and Washington DC, somewhere in Virginia, and Durham, North Carolina. We were going to do a road trip but it looks like buses will be MUCH cheaper (and probably safer) than hiring a car.
  4. A random student was giving out free hugs on Locust Walk. I got one, and it was awesome. He wasn't affiliated with any group; he just wanted to make people happy...nawwww!! :)

What did I learn? 

  • Buddhists don't believe that "all is suffering", no matter how many times you see it on the internet or wherever. It's a common misconception of Buddhism. Actually, Buddhists don't believe that there is an inherent or essential quality to anything. Instead, the First Noble Truth reads as "Sabbam Idam Dukkham", where "Idam" means "this". All "this" is suffering, not all is suffering. And "this" is all that you misperceive and are ignorant of: Anicca (impermanence), Anatta (non-self), Dukkha (existential trauma).
  • Google Books is an extremely useful tool. I've been preparing for my intro Buddhism mid-term, and wishing that I had my textbook in ebook format so that I could search for terms in it because the glossary is shit. Never fear, Google Books is here! It completely solved the problem - I can search for terms within the book and it shows me the snippet of what page it's on, so that I can then look it up in my physical textbook. Thanks, Google Books!
  • This is happening at Stouffer this week. I laughed.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Day 38: New York! Part 2

What went well? 

  1. Slept soooo well in my very comfy hotel bed. The hotel (The Out NYC) was really nice, but also very reasonably priced ($95 for the night) since I was in a 4-person shared room -  you get your own lockable closet & there are curtains around each queen-sized bed. I didn't have to talk to (or actually even really see) anyone I was sharing the room with. Here are some photos of the public spaces in the hotel. It's pretty hipster.

  2. The hotel was only about a 15 minute walk from Times Square. Felt like I got a real "New York" experience here:
  3. So. Much. Stimulation. Flashing billboards everywhere. #sensoryoverwhelm
    People lining up to buy same-day discounted tickets for Broadway shows. Good to know they exist! Might look into it for a future trip.
  4. Passed a fruit stall on the way to the bus back, and bought a HUGE (like 4-5x the normal size) punnet of blueberries for just $5. #winning
  5. Saw the Soweto Gospel Choir perform. (free ticket again!) It was a very vibrant, energetic performance.

What did I learn? 
  • Environment matters. You know, I'm usually not a very materialistic or consumeristic person, but surrounded by all the shops in Times Square, I suddenly felt like I needed to, like, buy something. It wasn't that bad though, I only bought a top.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Day 37: New York! Part 1

What went well? 
  1. My bus had wifi, so I managed to plan my trip on the bus. I seriously didn't know where I was going until I got there.
  2. Had a productive bus ride too. I've recently become very interested in the idea of deliberate practice, which is a key ingredient for mastery, so I came up with a checklist for deliberate singing practice (targeting my key vocal/musical issues). I'll print it out and have it out whenever I practice to make sure I'm on track.

  3. Really enjoyed mindfully appreciating the exhibits at the Rubin Museum of Art. It's a museum especially dedicated to artwork from the Himalyan region, including Tibet, India, Mongolia, etc., especially Buddhist artwork. Also, I had a great tour guide who was very comprehensive and the information about some of the figures and some tips on reading Buddhist art really helped with understanding the rest of the exhibit.
  4. Photographic reproduction of part of a Lukhang Temple mural.
    Skull-shaped bone prayer beads. I had no idea prayer beads came in such diverse shapes.

  5. I was about to book an Uber car for 2.25x the usual price because of peak demand in the blizzard, to get to the Met Opera, since I was cutting it fine (It was already 7.30pm; the show started at 8pm). But just as I was about to agree to pay a ridiculous amount of money for transport, a taxi pulled up!! So it was $10 (including generous tip) rather than like, $30-$40.
  6. Got a reply for a thank you note I sent (in which I said, "no reply required" - make life easier for busy people) to one of the faculty fellows who organised the Working Moms dinner, and she offered to chat another time to answer any other questions I have. Very kind and generous... :)
  7. Saw Renée Fleming star in Rusalka at the Metropolitan Opera. She was phenomenal. Every note was just so expressive, full of pain and longing. Here are some photos from the Opera House:

What did I learn? 

  • How to navigate the subway system. Also, the importance of asking. One question avoided me being transported to the opposite side of town.
  • Always leave MUCH earlier than you think you need to leave for an event, especially if it's snowing.
  • Some basics about reading Buddhist Art. Also, that "art" in the usual Western sense of "aesthetics" was a relatively recent idea for Buddhists, who traditionally used art for very practical, didactic purposes. Since not everyone could read, art was a very important storytelling device.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Day 36: Valentine's day

What went well?

  • I had been planning to go to the Glee Club Show (funded by Stouffer), but then got invited to hang out with a few people from the Positive Psychology Center after work, so I took up that offer. It was really, really fun and I am so grateful for the friend who invited me! Note to self: if I ever meet any exchange students, invite them to everything. It makes a huge difference.

What did I learn?

  • Seriously, double bag your groceries. I ended up going to Fresh Grocer after hanging out with people, and my bags were literally breaking and my groceries were falling out just during the 10-minute walk back. Take precautions!
  • Be nice to exchange students. It makes a huge difference to have a social support network here.

Nawwww. This dog was CRAZY.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Day 35: Working Moms Dinner + Yet another Snow Day!

What went well? 

  1. Class got cancelled today due to snow (yes, again) but the guest speaker got rescheduled so it was ok. Plus, I'm glad it wasn't Intro Buddhism or Sociology of Education that got cancelled - I would have been very sad to miss those awesome classes again!!
  2. Got heaps of research done. Am starting to see some trends in the way "mindfulness" has been used historically. Earlier usages (16th-18th centuries) were primary in a Christian context, to do with ideas about awareness or memory (especially of God or his qualities), whereas in the Western psychological literature, the earliest usage was around the start of the 20th century, and uses were quite divergent in the first 80 or so years. Watch this space.
  3. Went to a Stouffer event, a Working Moms dinner, where we had a conversation with four women working at Stouffer who are also mothers. It was really interesting and actually pretty enlightening. My key takeaways were:
    1. There is never a perfect time to have a child. They will turn your life upside down regardless of when it happens.
    2. What you think you want now may not be what you want in a few years' time. Keep an open mind and be creative with career possibilities.
    3. There is no one solution for balancing your career with your family. It all depends on your personality and your unique situation including variables like the presence of family members, the supportiveness of your partner, whether your career is one where you can take a break, and your financial circumstances.
    4. We should be talking about these issues, we shouldn't be afraid to mention that we have children (for fear of not being taken as seriously by other academics etc.), and if we have the power, we should be actively creating supportive workplaces if we want to change the culture and the structures.
    5. A supportive partner is key.
    6. There may be "seasons" where you focus on building your career, where your partner makes sacrifices for your career, where you make sacrifices for your partner's career, where you both make sacrifices for your family.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Day 34: First blue book test

What went well?

  1. The short-answer questions for my sociology of mental illness test this morning were really straightforward. Mostly. Also, the essay questions were fair.
  2. More captivating stories in my intro Buddhism lecture. "When I was a monk..." Seriously, how many people get to say that?? Today's story was particularly compelling. He told us of a time when he got bitten by a snake in a South-East Asian jungle in Laos, and he didn't ask for help for weeks because one of the monastic rules was that you don't bring up issues with the abbott unless he brings it up first, and being a stubborn 21-year-old, he wanted to show that he could follow the rules and be a really good monk etc. Well, he was pretty much dying (quite literally) and the leg was getting super infected, when he went and sat in front of the abbott and hoped that he would address him. Turns out, the abbott was trying to teach him a lesson (in the messed up way that seems to characterise Buddhist pedagogy) about the dangers of being so focused and priding yourself on unwavering focus. Virya, or "diligence" and "effort", requires not just complete and unwavering focus, but also the openness to learning from people around you and asking for help, and not doing everything on your own. Once he'd realised that, he got taken to the hospital where he spent a couple of months recovering. #lifeexperience
  3. The funniest thing ever happened in the positive psychology lecture today. A guy in the class raised his hand and walked up to the front of the class to deliver a rose and a personalised poem to Dr Duckworth for Valentine's day..."There's a reason the word "angel" is in your name"...etc. I think it was possibly the most hilarious thing I've witnessed yet here. Yup, it definitely made my day.

What did I learn?

  • Once again, students are really engaged here. In the Pos Psych lecture, they were going through the quiz answers and Dr Duckworth mentioned that they got one quiz from someone who wasn't even registered for the class! So I'm obviously not the only auditor. Also, I met a student auditing intro Buddhism this morning, and there are about 4 students auditing Neurolaw (and they even requested access to the readings). So auditing classes seems to be quite a common thing here, because students are genuinely interested in the topics.
  • Read my RescueTime communications report and got the facts on how much time I spent on email in the last two weeks:
    • I thought it was pretty revealing. I think I do take a bit long to write certain emails, especially if I'm trying to convey the right tone. But this is definitely useful information. I think in general, I've become more reactive to email at Penn, since I get MANY more emails in a day here. Starting from tomorrow, I'm going to limit my email-checking to first thing in the morning, after lunch, and before dinner (right now, it stays open in my dock and I read them as they arrive, unless I'm in class). I'll see how that goes!
  • I need to relearn how to plan my time with writing exam essays. Meh.
  • Blue books are pretty small! About A5 sized.
  • Something like this

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Day 33: Free tickets, woo!

What went well? 

  1. Had an appointment with a librarian this morning, who pointed me to a lot of helpful databases for my research. Also figured out how to use Google Books more effectively - you can choose to limit it to certain dates. Use your librarians!
  2. The TA for Neurolaw (which I'm now just auditing) brought coffee for the break. They weren't kidding about providing coffee!! (it's a 3-hour-long class)
  3. Saw Gerald Finley (baritone) and Julius Drake (piano) in concert, performing Schubert's Winterreise song cycle. It was beautifully and devastatingly expressive. As I said in a thank-you note to the Year of Sound funding committee (at Penn) who funded the free tickets to this concert, "Live classical music is always an uplifting and spiritually enriching experience that teaches me so much about the human experience. I really appreciated this opportunity to reconnect to the realm of emotions and artistic expression to balance out the otherwise highly intellectual focus in my daily life as a university student. Thank you for enriching the experiences and well-being of Penn students in this way." Also, I was glad to be able to give one of my tickets to a stranger who was about to buy a ticket at the box office, because one of my friends couldn't come so I had a spare one. It was a nice moment.
    Kay & I at the concert.

What did I learn?

  • Music, and art more generally, is a profound way of making meaning out of and communicating an understanding of the human experience and of suffering.
  • The case of Mr Oft (Berns & Swerdlow, 2003), who was a middle school teacher who made sexual advances on his 12 year old stepdaughter when he was 40. He had no history of pedophilia, but then started secretly started collecting child pornography and developing irresistible urges. Well, it turned out he had this brain tumour, and when they removed the brain tumour, the urges stopped and all was well for a few months. But then the tumour started growing again, and the urges came back. It really brings up questions of responsibility and free will: "My brain made me do it"?? We had a mock trial in class, and the four psychiatrists in the room (the professor + three forensic psychiatric fellows who are also participating in the class) agreed that he should be found not guilty by reason of insanity under the Irresistible Impulse Test but not the M'Naghten Test (which requires defendants to literally not know that what they were doing was wrong). Of course, we only got part of the story; in an actual trial they'd consider more than just the neurobiological evidence, like his personal history, and other aspects of his life.
  • Uber is a great service. It's basically a personal driver (or taxi) at demand. They have an app where you just request a driver and they locate you and pick you up. It's connected to your credit/debit card, so the payment gets taken care of automatically. They have a deal for new members, so if you use the promo code uberinlove you get $20 credit, which is what Kay and I did, so we basically got a free ride to the concert and back. And the cars are really nice!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Day 32: "Full & Exciting" Mondays

It so happens that I have 8 out of my 14 contact hours on Mondays. It's not as bad as it sounds though; 3 of those are musical, and these are all very positive activities. Anyhow, this is what my Mondays look like:

What went well? 
  1. Started the morning off with a loving kindness group meditation.
  2. Music students got offered free tickets to see baritone Gerald Finley sing Schubert's Winterreise song cycle tomorrow night, so I grabbed the opportunity and am going with two friends. Really looking forward to it.
  3. Met my new singing teacher, and had a really good lesson. She is excellent.
  4. Classes today were all really good. Especially Intro Buddhism, as always, and Sociology of Education (even for a 3-hour-long class!).
  5. My laptop battery lasted just long enough to get me through to the end of my classes with 6 minutes left.
  6. Started planning my spring break road trip with a friend. It's looking promising so far! We're thinking of going down the East coast (by rental car or buses), possibly including Washington DC, Virginia, national parks in North Carolina & South Carolina, & finishing in Florida and probably flying back.

What did I learn?
  • I need to do more than breathe low when singing - I need to start engaging the upper back and really expanding the rib cage. This was actually a bit of a game-changing insight for me, and I'm really looking forward to seeing where it takes my technique.
  • We were discussing Durkheim's seemingly contradictory statement re. societal norms and socialisation: "Liberty is the daughter of authority". It is somewhat paradoxical, and I think that we came to a consensus that it may not be true freedom if people are always operating within a framework of learned cultural norms that they may not be able to transcend, the liberal harm principle also comes into this because after all, you cannot be truly free if you don't have the security that you and other people have been socialised into basic norms like not killing...after all, how could you really achieve the full potential of freedom you fear for your safety?
  • My intro Buddhism professor said that if you tell stories about the past, and say something like, "I was such a nerd back then!", that's really just humblebragging because it implies that you're so much better now! I had never thought about it that way before.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Day 31: Sunday is not a day of rest

Since I did pretty much nothing (like, 2 hours of reading) yesterday, today was a rather industrious day, in preparation for a full & exciting week next week:

At least with the two free dinners, frozen leftovers, and going away for the weekend, I won't need to go grocery shopping next week!

What went well? 

  1. Felt like I got a lot done: I did my Sociology of Mental Illness readings in the morning, started some research for my (other) mindfulness paper in the afternoon (started building a research database as Cal Newport recommends, see end of this post for how I adapted it), practiced for my singing lesson tomorrow, and then continued some more research for my "meaning of mindfulness" paper.
  2. Watched this highly thought-provoking video: A French Film Showing Men What Being A Woman Feels Like Kinda Nails It

What did I learn?

  • It is super handy to have access to the research databases of two university libraries. For some reason, several articles I've tried to track down are apparently not available online through the Penn databases, so the solution is just to log onto the UniMelb library website and search it on Discovery, and it generally works.
  • The human brain now registers emoticon as real facial expression. It's amazing how we've adapted to technology at a neurological level.
  • Apparently, no one has done any research relating to mindfulness & grit or mindfulness & character.

Miscellaneous thoughts 
  • A major difference here is that students are actually expected to turn up for class. In fact, none of my lectures/seminars are recorded (other people have some recorded classes though, but it seems pretty rare), so you actually have to go. Also, people are in the habit of asking questions during lectures here. It is super rare to see that in Melbourne, but people here are really actively engaged in class and aren't afraid to ask.
  • Oh my god this first month has gone fast. I've been here for a month already!! Which means I only have 3 months left of exchange!!! Insane.
  • So this is what my version of Cal's Research Database looks like. I added a column for key words so I can quickly see what the reference covers, and a column to rank how useful I think it will be, so I can sort and prioritise what to read first. Normally, I would do those steps after downloading all the sources I think are possibly going to be useful, but I am now being more selective and doing some basic processing of the sources as I find them.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Day 30: West Philly

What went well?

  1. Went for a walk to West Philly with a friend. Discovered a few wonderful things on the way, including a farmer's market (!!!!) just a couple of blocks away, a food co-op, and lots and lots of cool cafés. Will definitely keep exploring, especially by foot.

  2. This is a bad photo, but if you look closely, there are tables with lots of fresh produce.
  3. Started a Coursera course, Teaching Character and Creating Positive Classrooms. So far, the videos are really excellent. It's free, so if you're at all interested in positive education, and the role of self-control and grit in success, I highly recommend it!
  4. Watched a series of one-act plays on campus. There were 6 plays in 2 hours, and they were all very compelling and thought-provoking. Theatre really does illuminate a lot about the human condition, human psychology and of course, human suffering. I must see more shows.

What did I learn? 

  • Summerhill is a radical approach to schooling that began in the 1921s. Basically, the goal is to raise happy, creative and confident children, they don't have to go to class if they don't want to, learning is self-directed, children are treated as equals, and they run their own community and create their own rules in a democratic fashion. It was really interesting to read about this philosophy and I look forward to discussing it in class on Monday. Also, they still exist to this very day!
  • Dr Duckworth and other researchers are trying to figure out whether and how we can teach grit (being able to stick with and maintain passion for long-term goals, even with frustrations and set-backs). They're starting by trying to clear up common misconceptions that kids may have about practice:
    1. The amount of practice required to master a skill ("how much practice matters")
    2. The role of failure in mastering a skill ("practice is not fun")
    3. They may undervalue the role of feedback
  • A couple of strategies Dr Duckworth uses to cultivate grit in her own family:
    • Everyone has to do a hard thing - something that requires deliberate practice, setting specific goals, practicing outside of skill level, getting feedback, repetition for mastery. They are allowed to quit the hard thing, but only after the tuition payment is up (i.e. after that semester), when they can make a mindful & reasoned decision to do something else, but they can't just quit in the middle and when things get hard.
    • She uses language very intentionally. When her kids practice the viola/piano, she doesn't only praise the times when it sounds really good, but also says things like, "Wow, that sounds like you're really working on the hard parts, you're really doing deliberate practice," because although those are the parts that don't sound good, you have to reward kids for the struggle if you want to cultivate this quality in them.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Day 29: FOMO

What went well?

  • Had a peaceful start to the day, reading a chapter of Thich Nhat Hanh's Being Peace for my Intro Buddhism class. The compassion that emanated from the text was powerful.
  • Had lunch with my friend from my Sociology of Mental Illness & Intro Buddhism classes. She generously swiped me into the 1920 Commons dining hall, so it was really nice to get a variety of food, with excellent vegan options.
  • Had my first lab meeting with my fellow research assistants. It was really nice to meet them and share ideas about where we think positive psychology should go and what's going on in the field. Also, the post-doc I'm working with brought chocolate & mint cake, and it was vegan, so that was a treat.
  • Finished writing my research proposal for my Intro Buddhism paper.

What did I learn? 
  • Another insightful quote from a friend at Philo. This was in relation to a prospective member who said something publicly that warranted a bit of concern, to say the least...just dead silence. It was really sad and I felt compassion. And my friend said, "You can't save them, you can only love them."
  • A new term: Neuroaesthetics. The intersection between neuroscience & aesthetics - why people appreciate art. A prospective member of Philo gave her 6 minute presentation on this topic, and it was really excellent.
  • When time constraints exist, you make the most of your experience. People are always surprised by how "in the know" I am about what's going on on campus, or how things work around here. But I have to be! I'm only here for a semester and want to make the most of it. Massive FOMO (fear of missing out), yet of course MO is inevitable with all the stuff that's happening here. I literally get 5-10 emails a day notifying me of new events, sometimes of multiple events. It can get a bit overwhelming. But be a yes person! It's generally valuable to expose yourself to spontaneity. To give you an idea of the number of events around, here's a peek at my email inbox:

  • And here's an email I got from the Penn Abroad activities coordinator:

Dear Exchange Students,

Good morning!

As you may be aware, this weekend will be a snowy one. If you haven’t built a snow man, this might be the time to do so! Make sure to be creative and take pictures!

Last night I almost lost my phone, but fortunately with the help of many people, including officers at the Penn Police Station, I got it back. Have you gotten the help that you need from others while you are Penn? I hope so! If not, let us know- Penn Abroad if here for you.
Also, the Managing Stress and Finding Balance session is coming up on Wednesday, February 26th, at 6-7pm. Food will be provided! For more info or RSVP, click here (or email back if you on not active on facebook).  

Happening at Penn

The Bearded Ladies
Marlene & the Machine: A German Expressionist Cabaret
Friday, February 7 @ 7:30 PM
Saturday, February 8 @ 7:30 PM
@ Annenberg Center- Harold Prince Theatre
A “wildly entertaining” (Philadelphia Inquirer) experimental group bent on inciting a cabaret revolution, The Bearded Ladies tackle the politics of popular culture, sex, gender and artistic invention with wit and sparkle, as well as over-the-top costumes, drag, pitch-perfect songs and virtuosic prop construction. Marlene & The Machine combines the music of Marlene Dietrich and Lotte Lenya with the visual language of German Expressionism to create a shadowy world that blurs the lines between human, music and machine.

One-Acts 2014
February 6th, 7th, and 8th, 2014 7:30 pm
@ Houston Hall Class of '49 Auditorium
The Theatre Arts Council presents the 2012 One Acts: There Shall Be No Bottom (a bad play for worse actors) by Mark O'Donnell, Love and How to Cure It by Thornton Wilder, Central Park West by Woody Allen, and Monologue: "A Prayer" by Paul Simms.
Tickets: $10 with Penn Card, $12 without. A portion of proceeds will go to The Pennsylvania School for the Deaf

World Culture Afternoon
Annual Celebration of African Cultures
Saturday, February 8, 1:00 - 4:00 pm
@ Penn Museum
Shake Your Sekere! African music, belly dancing in the Tunisian tradition, storytelling, arts, artifacts, games, crafts, and cuisine all come together for the Penn Museum's annual Celebration of African Cultures. Now in its 25th year, the festive event features an array of renowned local artists including the Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble, storyteller Momma Sandi and the percussionists of the Women's Sekere Ensemble. Visitors can also explore art and artifacts from across the African Diaspora in Penn Museum's current special exhibition Black Bodies in Propaganda: The Art of the War Poster, the Imagine Africa gallery project, the African Gallery and the ancient Egypt Galleries. Free with Museum admission.
For performance schedule, check the web.

Second Sunday Family Workshop
Hieroglyphic Valentines
Sunday, February 9, 1:00 - 4:00 pm
@ Penn Museum
Valentine's Day is just around the corner. In this drop-in workshop, show your love to your mummy, daddy, sibling, or friend by creating a valentine written in Egyptian hieroglyphs. Free with Museum admission. For more information, visit the website, or call 215.898.4016.

Afternoon Performance
Relâche in Residence
Sunday, February 9, 3:00 pm
@ Penn Museum
Relâche, Philadelphia's internationally-renowned new music ensemble, continues its new three-concert series, "New Sounds and Cinema," featuring both commissioned music and live accompaniment to old silent films, at the Penn Museum. The series is part of the University of Pennsylvania's Year of Sound.
The ensemble will perform the title tracks from its new CD, "Comix Trips," commissioned from composer Paul Lansky. Loaded with quirky charm, humor, and virtuosity, with touching moments as well, Lansky's music makes the eight players in Relâche sound truly orchestral. February 9 also marks the release of the group's new CD which will be for sale at the concert.

RelacheCOMIXgraphicRelâche's silent film offering will be Buster Keaton's blockbuster comedy, "The General." The title is actually the name of a steam engine which Keaton engineers as no steam train has ever been engineered before or since. The film's two chase scenes are spectacular. Relâche cranks up its live accompaniment for the film live with music drawn from its repertoire, including selections by Philip Glass, Guy Klusevcek, Raymond Scott, Eric Satie, Fred Ho, and Tyler Capp, plus Relâche's own versions of period tunes like Ashokan Farewell and Battle Hymn of the Republic.

Relâche concert tickets are just $10 for Penn students with PennCard, in advance or at the door, while supplies last. The audience is cordially invited to an informal reception following the performance to meet the musicians of Relâche. For more information, visit the website, or call 215.898.2680.

Pre-Columbian Society Lecture
Pre-Columbian Engineering in U.S. Film

Sunday, February 8, 1:30 pm
@ Penn Museum
Prof. Richard C. Shupp, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, Lafayette College, and a group of Lafayette College students have researched the images of Pre-Columbian engineering as it has been portrayed in American film. The anticipated Maya apocalypse in 2012 spawned a number of Hollywood films that suggested a broad spectrum of possible outcomes. Some films were intensely sentimental, and others were stunningly gruesome. The group illustrates their talk with video clips from the films they have identified and analyzed, and share their observations and conclusions. Held in Anthropology Rm. 345. Free admission. Visit website for more information.

Far From Vietnam & The New Wave By Itself
Wed, February 12, 7pm – 10pm
International House Philadelphia,
If you're into films, you have to check out this double feature. First, the International House Philadelphia will be showing Far From Vietnam, a collaboration by many famous filmmakers in 1967. Next will be The New Wave By Itself, a movie displaying the French New Wave movement in action. It's just $7 for students to see both of these films. Check out the website for complete information.

Young Friends Valentine Event: Blurred Lines - The Secret Side of the Collections
Thu, February 13, 6pm – 8pm
Penn Museum, South Street, Philadelphia, PA, United States (map)
Think ancient art was always formal and serious? Think again! See a secret side of different artifacts at the Penn Museum that's too racy to show on an everyday basis. This year, Penn Museum will explore artifacts depicting racy and sexually explicit material in the Museum's permanent collection. Cash bar to follow.
Just in time for Valentine's Day, this exclusive event is only $5 with Penn Card. Check out the website for complete details on the event. For additional information, call 215.898.5093 or email

Penn Bookstore Series
SAT FEB 08, 01:00pm-02:00pm
@ Penn Bookstore 2nd floor, Study & Events Room
Debut novelist Christine Wade will be in store to discuss "Seven Locks"- a work of historical fiction set in the Pre-Revolutionary War Catskill Mountains. Read more about the it here:

MON FEB 10, 06:00pm-07:00pm
@ Penn Bookstore 2nd floor, Study & Events Room
Penn alum Brooke Erin Duffy will be in-store to discuss her latest book-"Remake and Remodel: Women's Magazines in the Digital Age"- a unique glimpse at how executives and content creators are remaking their roles, their audiences, and their products at this critical historic juncture

Under A Rest
Penn Glee Club Student Performance

Thursday, February 13 @ 8 PM
Friday, February 14 @ 7:30 PM
Saturday, February 15 @ 1 PM
Saturday, February 15 @ 8 PM

@ Annenberg Center- Zellerbach Theatre
Under A Rest presents a neo-fascist state, wherein all music has been outlawed. Anyone who sings is sent straight to Pennsylvania General Corrections and the warden of this facility wants to have all traces of music abolished from the face of the earth. On the very day the President of the World is scheduled to arrive, the prison admits four new inmates: four Penn students who had just founded a rogue a cappella group in their basement. The fate of the world and the people's happiness rest in the hands of the inmates at P.G.C., but the warden leads an oppressive regime that will be hard to overcome. Come find out what happens in Under A Rest!

Check out the Library’s WIC workshops here.

Sign up for the Outdoor Adventure trips here.

Penn also offers self-defense classes for free for female students. Check the details in the attached PDF!

Fun in Philly

Shaping Shakespeare: Hands-On Tour
Fri, February 7, 3pm – 4pm
Rosenbach Museum & Library, Delancey Place (map)
Learn about the beginnings of Shakespeare and how his work was created and changed with this tour. You'll get the chance to see rare, behind-the-scenes items and hear expert opinions on them. This tour is only $5 and advance registration is recommended! Check out the website for complete details on the event.

The Pigeon Presents: The Philadelphia Poetry Slam
Fri, February 7, 7:30pm – 10:00pm
PhilaMOCA, North 12th Street (map)
First, there will be a poetry workshop featuring Pages Matam, an award winning slam poet from Cameroon. At 8:30 people can sign up for the slam, and the slam itself starts at 9! Tickets are $10. Check out the website for complete details on the event.
I remember the poetry slam my friend took me to when I was in Columbus, Ohio, and it was quite an experience!

Transplanted Souls: Another Try at Eternal Rest
Sat, February 8, 1pm – 3pm
Laurel Hill Cemetery, Ridge Avenue, Philadelphia, PA, United States (map)
As Philadelphia grows and changes, sometimes history can get lost. Check out Laurel Hill Cemetery's walking tour and learn about how places that were once reserved for the dead are now being built upon. For $12, you can learn about the relocation of those seeking eternal rest and the reasons behind it. Visit thewebsite for complete event details.

14th Annual Print Love-In
Sun, February 9, 1pm – 3pm
Fleisher Art Memorial, Catharine Street, Philadelphia, PA, United States (map)
Celebrate Valentine's Day in a creative way! At this years Love-In, you can learn about the process of printmaking and create your own Valentine's Day cards. The session from 1 pm - 3 pm is $10 and all ages, while the later session at 5 pm - 7 pm is $20 and 21+, since wine will be served. Check out the websitefor complete details on the event.

Science on Tap
Mon, February 10, 6pm – 7pm
National Mechanics Philadelphia Bar and Restaurant, South 3rd Street, Philadelphia (map)
Are you a science geek? Join the Academy of Natural Sciences as they meet at National Mechanics to hang out with the experts and talk about science. This month features a presentation on emerging technology in paleontology followed by discussion. This event is free to attend! Check out the website for complete details on the event.

Jazz is: Now! Featuring Jon Batiste
Tue, February 11, 6:30pm – 8:30pm
Kimmel Center, South Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA, United States (map)
Do you like jazz? This event is for you! Part of the Free at the Kimmel series, Jon Batiste brings an exciting and interactive event where the audience members get to join in on the fun by singing, dancing, and even playing some music. The event is free, but tickets are required. Check out the website for complete details on the event.

Night Skies in the Observatory
Thu, February 13, 6pm – 9pm
The Franklin Institute, North 20th Street, Philadelphia, PA, United States (map)
Come out to the Franklin Institute for a night with the stars -- literally! Visit the Joel N Bloom Observatory where you can view stars and planets from five different telescopes. Tickets are just $5 and also include a planetarium show! Check out the website for complete details on the event.