Monday, 31 March 2014

Day 81: Early April Fools

What went well? 

  1. Experienced elevation during my intro Buddhism class. Haidt (2003) coined this term, which describes "a positive emotion experienced upon witnessing another person perform a virtuous act, principally one that improves the welfare of other people" (Schnall, Roper, & Fessler, 2010, p. 315). Typically, people experiencing elevation will report that they feel inspired and uplifted, and motivated to perform a similarly prosocial act themselves. The "virtuous act" I witnessed in this case, was simply hearing an inspirational story about a couple in some South-East Asian who run a restaurant and get up every morning at 4am and finish around 8pm, working Monday-Saturday. They close shop on Sunday because there's not enough business - BUT - they then lug all their equipment to the monastery and repeat their routine there on Sundays, donating all the food for free to the monastery, to all the monks and anyone who comes and needs food. So awesome.
  2. Someone was handing out copies of the Daily Pennsylvanian (the student paper) on Locust Walk today. I thought it was a particularly hilarious issue, but laughed even more when I realised that it was actually their annual joke issue (by going to their website). Like, I totally believed stuff like this was actually real. It would have been awesome if it was!! I was completely caught off-guard because April Fools is meant to be tomorrow!! Still, a great dose of humour.
  3. Sketched out another mind map to get some clarity about my Buddhism/Mindfulness paper. These things help a lot, even while illustrating the complexity of things. I forgot to use this technique (jotting down key themes) as I was reading along, and it would have helped a lot because you do forget things you read earlier.
  4. Messssssy.....

What did I learn? 

  • Some cool ornaments for a piece I'm singing!
  • People with more social support are overall less likely to enter treatment for mental illness, but if they have a serious mental illness, then more social support means that they are more likely to enter treatment.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Day 80: Obsessed

What went well? 

  1. Had lunch with a friend, and had a good conversation about singing, Penn culture (hypothesis: students are frazzled because they are so motivated and ambitious) and new trends in accommodation...e.g. micro-apartments...
  2. Put together my comparison table for my mindfulness in education paper, comparing two mindfulness curriculums and a positive psychology curriculum. The next step is to get a clearer sense of how they can work together.
  3. My reflection got posted on the UniMelb psychology website. I also really enjoyed reading all the other prizewinner's reflections. It's so interesting to read about how everyone got into psychology and to read about how passionate they all are.
  4. I think just listening to Diana Damrau sing yesterday and watching La Sonnambula has helped me improve my practice with Ah! non credea a lot. I feel like I'm really starting to "get" the piece and the nuances in it, and I've only really just started working on it (literally one lesson so far!!). A lot can be accomplished when you're really obsessed with a piece (it is well and truly in my head all the time and I just want to sing it a lot)...and inspired.

What did I learn? 

  • It's not so straightforward to try and put together a model of how mindfulness and positive psychology work together in education. They support each other and common goals in many ways, so there are many many connections on messy pages of notebook at the moment. More notebook method required.
  • It's kinda hard picking up where I left off with a major research project. It's only been two days since I last did any work for my Buddhism paper, but it took awhile to figure out where to go with it tonight, and what to read. To overcome this issue in future, it's important to write an action step for the next session whenever I end a current session working on it. So, I have an action step telling me what to read next, which will be helpful. It cuts a lot of meandering and fluffing about and being paralysed by it.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Day 79: Diana Damrau is Perfection

What went well? 

  1. Went to New York again to see La Sonnambula at the Metropolitan Opera. It was definitely the highlight of my week (along with Frozen, of course!). I initially booked my ticket purely because I wanted to see Diana Damrau perform, not because I knew anything about this opera, and it was totally worth it. I also happen to be working on a song from this opera now, so it was extra useful to see Diana perform it, and also to see it in context. I was completely awestruck by her performance. She has such complete mastery and command of her voice, and can sing in any position, even while dancing, without compromising the quality of the singing. She also has such a charismatic and elegant stage presence, and is an extremely soulful performer. Plus, she cartwheeled across the stage during Ah! non giunge (it's a very happy song) was so funny. I am such a fan. Just wow.
  2. Went to a vegan place for lunch, just 5 minutes away from the Met Opera House. It was great, and still feels like such a luxury to have so much choice.
  3. Started creating a Prezi for my class presentation on my research paper progress for my mindfulness class, and it was actually pretty fun. I love Prezi. I feel like it's a way to really creatively express ideas and draw connections. Here's a sneak peek:

What did I learn? 

  • I gained a much deeper understanding of the background behind Ah! non credea, Amina's aria in La Sonnambula. There's nothing like actually seeing the show and the relationships between the characters and how the plot plays out, to understand what the song represents and what needs to be communicated within it.
  • A meta-analysis by Zoogman, Goldberg, Hoyt, & Miller (2014) suggests that in young people, mindfulness has larger effects on psychological symptoms (e.g. anxiety, depression) than other outcomes (e.g. attention, mindfulness, quality of life, social skills), and that mindfulness has bigger effects on clinical than non-clinical populations.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Day 78: Hallelujah

What went well? 

  1. Had a good lab meeting today. We got briefed on a new project - basically trying to make sense of all of the existing well-being measures that are out there, because there's so many, and some are better than others, and for different audiences. So we'll be compiling information on every measure out there that we can find.
  2. Went back to the gym after a week off for cold recovery.
  3. Had a good rehearsal with my duet partner for opera scenes.
  4. The review of meditation programs in schools that my mentor in Melbourne sent me a few days ago was really helpful for my paper.

What did I learn? 

  • The problem of not incentivising teaching in higher ed is quite a big one:
    • "Sometimes, after all, your teacher’s slides are copied from Wikipedia to begin with. A junior in biochemistry told me his professor occasionally had difficulty understanding his own slides. Curious, a fellow student copied a sentence into Google. On one tortuously precise and wordy slide four consecutive sentences came straight out of a paragraph in Wikipedia. They were made into bullet points for appearance’s sake, but content and order remained untouched."
  • A narrative about how Hallelujah rose to popularity. Found this interesting since this is the song I arranged, directed and sung for my school small house choir back in 2011, so it's one that's close to my heart.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Day 77: Frozen

What went well?

  1. Watched Frozen at the Positive Psychology Center this evening!! It was such a highlight. The movie was heartwarming and a real feel-good movie, with great songs and a great plot. Also, I appreciated the food people made and brought - got a recipe for a vegan coconut pumpkin pudding (sooo good!!) and the post-doc I'm working with brought in a vegan chocolate and mint brownie/cake-type thing which was also amazing.
  2. Enjoyed today's Duckworth lab meeting on adult ADHD. It was really interesting to learn more about it.
  3. Gutted (this is my term for copying quotes into my research database) 6 references for my other mindfulness paper. Glad this is finally rolling along again, as it was pretty hard to get the activation energy to get going again after not working on it at all for about a month.

What did I learn? 
  • I guess the research and thought I put into this paper earlier actually was worth something, since I have a fairly clear idea of where I'm going with it now.
  • Adult ADHD can be conceptualised as involving two components: (1) executive dysfunction and (2) reward deficiency/motivation deficit. Also, there exists cognitive-behavioural therapy for ADHD. Really interesting.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Day 76: Invisible hand

What went well? 

  1. I was right about study being homeostatic. It turns out that I actually did the perfect amount of study for the sociology of mental illness test. It went really smoothly.
  2. Martin Seligman gave a guest lecture during the Positive Psychology lecture today on what's cutting edge in positive psychology. It was pretty cool to hear about it from the father of positive psychology, and to hear his visions and perspective on the politics of well-being too. I have to say, he is pretty visionary with his outlook on the global impact of positive psychology for well-being.
  3. Got through another article & book chapter for my Buddhism research paper.
  4. Went to a free violin concert at the Penn Museum. It was very virtuosic.
  5. Finished writing my reflection on studying psychology at Melbourne. Will link to it once it's published next week!

What did I learn? 

  • Martin Seligman has an idea about the "invisible hand" increasing well-being. The idea is that if you measure the well-being of say, a company or a country, and then publicly report these findings, and hold people accountable to increasing well-being, people will find local ways to increase well-being. It creates a form of "competition" because if say medical schools report higher levels of well-being than law schools, then law schools will want to find ways to improve student well-being, lest they lose potential students to medical schools. Similarly, countries don't want to look bad I guess.
  • I really need to try and figure out how my research paper will say different things than what has already been said. My reaction to about 3 papers I've read have been: "Gahhh, can you please stop writing everything that I'm trying to argue??" People have beat me to it!! But I'm sure I can find a way to make some form of a unique contribution, no matter how small.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Day 75: Resourcefulness

What went well? 

  1. After being unable to get hold of a certain professor to get access to some implementation manuals for positive psychology classroom curriculums for my other research paper, I reached out to my mentor in Melbourne, another head of positive education at a school, and the post-doc I'm research assisting here, and got helpful replies from all three of them. They weren't able to get me access to the manuals, but at least provided really helpful resources/outlines that actually gave me all the information I was looking for. So, I'm ready to get going on that research paper (finally).
  2. Got invited to write a reflection on my experience studying psychology at UniMelb for the newsletter.
  3. Got through three more articles for my Buddhism research.

What did I learn? 

  • People are really helpful, you just need to ask the right ones, and be open-minded about what outcomes you're looking for.
  • I think studying is a homeostatic process. I have my sociology of mental illness test tomorrow, but just could not study any more for it this evening. Not because I'm like 100% ready or have memorised everything or prepared as much as I can - but because I guess something within me says, that's enough, for my goals & purposes. Instead, I spent the extra 2-3 hours on my Buddhism research, and I'll do last-minute test prep tomorrow morning.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Day 74: Scheduled

Today was intense! I was scheduled in stuff from 10am - 8pm with a 30 minute break, since I signed up for that extra credit opportunity for Buddhism:

Anyhow, I survived (thank you, coffee!) and still managed to get 3 hours of work done this evening.

What went well? 

  1. Got through the day without running out of steam! Caffeine is a wonderful thing.
  2. Got a blast from the past-type message from people in my Kidsline days. It was really lovely to hear from them.
  3. I felt really engaged during my sociology of education class today. I hadn't been participating as actively in the discussions in the past few weeks, but felt like I had more to contribute today. The discussion was on detracking, and neo-traditional perspectives on the "mediocritization" of the US education system.
  4. Had a good singing lesson - started Bellini's Ah! Non Credea, from La Sonnambula. Also had a nice conversation at the end about no matter how much we (in this generation in particular) want to plan things out and strategise, it's never fully within our control, and once you've done everything you can, then universe kinda a way of making things work out as they're meant to. I think singing teachers are so much more than singing teachers. They are mentors and sources of wisdom about life.

What did I learn? 

  • I would have saved myself SO MANY HOURS OF RESEARCH if I'd actually read about four articles in the special issue of Contemporary Buddhism on "Mindfulness: diverse perspectives on its meaning, origins, and multiple applications at the intersection of science and dharma" more closely (I'd only skimmed them) before I embarked on research. I mean, it's still fine, and useful to read them now, but I freaked out slightly when I realised that one of the articles (Gethin 2011: "On some definitions of mindfulness") had already said a lot of I was going to say, but then I thought about it and I am actually bringing in a bit more context, more tracing through various causal chains & conditions for its popularisation, and taking a more holistic approach, so it's really ok. It's definitely a useful article to point me to some leads to follow up on though.
  • Some academics are actually interested in pedagogy! My sociology of education professor always says that academics are rarely interested in pedagogy/teacher education and look down on it, the assumption being that if you're an expert in your field, ergo, you can teach it. But today at the Future of Theravada Buddhism symposium, a large part of the discussion kept coming back to the idea of how to best teach it - chronologically or thematically - and get the right messages across (like the idea that there is no single "Buddhism", encouraging critical and more complex thinking), and selecting the best materials (books, readings), and teaching for different students. It was very encouraging to see that some academics do care about how to teach! Of course, maybe it's not so surprising that they have this heightened awareness of how their teaching impacts their students' learning, given that they are studying Buddhism after all.
  • In Buddhism today, we heard stories about our professor's experience as a monk. And whoaaaaa, monkhood is so intense. That's an understatement. It's like military boot camp. They strip away your identity - take away your name (you get given a new one), your hair, your eyebrows (they define your face and express emotion), your clothes (then you get redressed with robes that you don't choose either), you follow a rigid schedule, you get given tasks to do, you follow over 200 rules, etc...all this is designed to take away decision-making and will, to help you break down the sense of the Self. And they went on alms rounds - the monks walk through the village with a begging bowl for food, once a day in the morning - where villagers can place food in the bowls. They're not allowed to acknowledge each other. So once you get back, you have to first look at the food for like 45 minutes, to experience what it's like to feel desire (you only eat once a day so you're kinda hungry by then), then you have to mush everything up in the bowl into a paste, and add water, and mush it up more. Mehhhhhhh. It's kinda :O as a Westerner to hear about just how intense actual monkhood (in very traditional Southeast Asian monasteries) would be.
  • According to Brewer et al.'s (pretty old) study, there are winners and losers when it comes to tracking (sorting students based on ability and educating them differently). Students in average & above average tracks do better than if they were not tracked, whereas students in the below-average track do worse. This was to debunk a belief that tracking is just bad for those in the below-average track, but makes no difference for average & above-average students, ergo, detracking is the obvious option. It looks like it's not that simple. Of course, there were a lot of limitations to this study, one of which was that the only outcome variable was scores on a 10th grade math test, and of course, there are many other outcomes that we may care about.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Day 73: Reading

What went well? 

  1. Woke up with more ideas for my Buddhism paper. The various strands are really starting to come together now. I think the idea of interconnectedness is going to be central - mindfulness could not have become popularised without the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn with his MBSR program, and he wouldn't have created it if it weren't for a series of events in his own life, including becoming involved in Zen Buddhism while at MIT, but then that couldn't have happened if Buddhism hadn't first been introduced to the West, and you know, the Buddhist word sati had to be translated to "mindfulness", a choice that was influenced by previous uses of "mindfulness" in the English language, and the way it was described by certain writers influenced Jon Kabat-Zinn's understanding of it and therefore his portrayal of it which has been foundational to the way that Western Psychology now uses it...etc etc.
  2. Got a really thoughtful and supportive message from a friend this morning. I so appreciate it. Thank you :)
  3. Caught up with a friend over dinner and had a great conversation. It was so good to connect.
  4. Got lots of reading done: close reading of two more articles on discussions of mindfulness by Buddhist scholars, and two articles for my sociology of education class.
  5. Also read another chapter for leisure from Stephen Batchelor's Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist. It's his very fascinating memoir of his journey as a Buddhist monk in the Tibetan, then Zen traditions, with his struggles and issues with the elaborate and obscure meditational practices and belief systems, which later drove him to write his landmark book, Buddhism Without Beliefs. The latter book is basically about Buddhism as an ethical system/philosophy about how to make the most of this life, without any metaphysical beliefs about rebirth etc., or appeals to esoteric doctrines and authorities.

What did I learn?

  • Quora is addictive! I got back to my room more than an hour ago, intending to write my blog and go to sleep, but ended up answering a couple of questions on Quora. Woops.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Day 72: Greenlight

All in all, it was a great day. I woke up with a very sore throat, and was extremely tired till about noon, but after that, was very productive for the rest of the day, and cheerful too! Especially compared to yesterday.

What went well? 

  1. It was actually WARM (18 degrees celsius) and SUNNY today!! Wooooo Spring is officially here!! (let's not think about snow next Tuesday :P)
  2. Research paper is going really well. I'm at that stage where I've engaged so much in the paper over a short timespan (probably 25 hours this week) that I DREAM about the paper now. So, my brain figures stuff out for me while I sleep and I wake up with new ideas and connections from the get-go. It's great! Also, sent my research outline/summary to date to my Buddhism professor, and he replied and is really happy with it!! Gave me the "greenlight" (sic). Even better, I asked if, in that case, I still need to submit a 2-3 page writing sample on Monday since I don't usually start writing until I've actually finished most of my research (you can make much better connections when all the information is in front of you and you have the bigger picture), and he said that what I had sent him was fine! So that was a huge WWW, because I was kinda stressing about getting that in and studying for my sociology of mental illness test on Wednesday at the same time.
  3. Had dinner with a friend who swiped me into Commons, and also a couple of others who I'd just met, and it was good company.
  4. Skyped my dear friend Viky back in Melbourne, and it was so good to catch up and share good news with each other :)

What did I learn? 

  • I have done more research than I thought I had! And I actually have a fairly ok understanding of the general issues in the field.
  • Wow, mindfulness, as understood by Buddhist scholars, is an incredibly complex concept. My head is spinning. And psychology manages to operationalise it in a neat 1 sentence summary!

Friday, 21 March 2014

Day 71: Masking and warmth

What went well? 

  1. We watched a film in our Buddhism recitation today on the ordination process in a Chinese Chan Buddhist Monastery. The monks interviewed were just so grounded, peaceful, joyful, and full of wisdom that they communicated with true authenticity and compassion. I wasn't feeling great before the class but I left feeling reminded of perspective. There is another way of being, and I don't have to be a monastic to apply these mindsets, as best I can, in my own life.
  2. The newest team member in our positive psychology lab is so, so lovely. She's the kind of person that is such a great team member and so easy to work with.
  3. Got a clear research summary together based on the data I've collected so far for my Buddhism paper. So now the next step is actually to form a clear argument...

What did I learn? 

  • I'm fairly transparent. Even though I'm trying to cultivate warmth, it's still difficult for me to communicate that when I don't necessarily feel that towards someone, and that is a result of being judgemental about their behaviours. The most I can do is to mask hostility as best I can, and maintain a neutral tone and expression. More mindfulness required, to get past the judging. On the other hand, I was again reminded of how important this is, when someone else in that setting did communicate genuine kindness and warmth, when the rest of us were all somewhat aloof. And also, just how contagious attitude and demeanour is in a team setting. Especially the leader's. And how much effort it must take to try and lead consistently with energy and a positive attitude even if you're tired and stressed. It's a huge responsibility.
  • My immune system is down at the moment. I was sitting next to someone who was sick in a lecture today, but thought it would be ok since normally if someone is already displaying symptoms, then they're no longer contagious, but by 2pm I had the beginnings of a sore throat so I think now I have actually caught it and will be sure to rest as much as I can while researching/writing/studying for a test this weekend...contradictory, but possible?
  • Research updates! Here's where I'm at with that paper, in a few pretty graphs:
  • Explosion in popularity of the concept of mindfulness in Western Psychology from around 2002.

    Increasing trend towards “secularisation”, with fewer references to Buddhism/Buddhist or even meditation. This  also suggests that Western psychology's use of Buddhist mindfulness has always been fairly secular as most publications never even mentioned Buddhism/Buddhist.

    Google Ngrams show the yearly count of certain words and phrases in books. Here are a couple:

    Sharp increase in “mindfulness” after the 1980s, which coincides with its introduction to Western psychology/medicine.

    Suggests that the increase in mentions of “mindfulness” isn’t simply due to an increase in mentions of Buddhism. So, it’s really the use in psychology that’s driving the increase in popularity.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Day 70: Mehhhhhhh

That is the best way to describe how I feel about the state of my research essays so far!! I have spent a stupidly long amount of time collecting (I now realise) way too much data for my Buddhism paper and am still feeling pretty vague about where I'm going with it, and have an outline & 2-3 page writing sample due Monday. And I have barely started my other mindfulness paper, which I'm supposed to be able to present on (progress at least) in two weeks, and the full thing is due in five weeks....and I still haven't been able to get hold of the positive education curricula that I wanted to make comparisons with....mehhhhhhh. And I have a sociology test next Wednesday (which I'll probably end up studying for the day before). So, mehhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Right now, I'm feeling pretty grateful that I'm only taking 4 actual subjects + my music ones!! It's ok though, I believe that work always gets done (because it actually always does). Anyhow, fun & games are over for the moment (but I have many things to look forward to next week, including a Buddhism symposium with top scholars, a Bach violin recital, and New York again to see Diana Damrau in La Sonnambula).

What went well? 
  1. I've been engaging in so many mindfulness/positive psychology-related things recently that I keep getting all this research ideas for my capstone project next semester/honours project next year popping into my head. And some of them are actually promising, and one for next year is particularly exciting, so I'll need to investigate the feasibility of that. So my running list of ideas is growing!
  2. Had a guest speaker in our mindfulness class today, and enjoyed learning about her approach to bringing mindfulness to schools - by training teachers (who volunteered), who then bring the practice to their own classrooms in ways that feel authentic to them personally. It's a smart and sustainable approach to a potential whole-school implementation.
  3. At least I've finally finished collected data points for that paper! (I hope. Mostly.)
What did I learn? 
  • The Duckworth lab meeting today was on MCII (mental contrasting/implementation intentions), which is the most well-studied and effective self-regulation exercise. We did a WOOP (wish, outcome, obstacle plan) where you come up with and visualise a goal for the next month, the ideal outcome, the biggest obstacle, and what you would do to overcome that obstacle (if .... then.....). I set a goal to practice loving-kindness meditation for 5 minutes every night. Which is what I need to do right now after I go brush my teeth!

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Day 69: Cultivating wonder

What went well? 

  1. I went to a talk co-sponsored by the Positive Psychology Center on the Philosophy and Psychology of Virtue, and was sitting two rows behind Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology. Then a few minutes later, Angela Duckworth joined him. I've been going to Professor Duckworth's weekly lab meetings so I see her all the time, but I took that moment to appreciate just how special it is to be here at Penn, in such close proximity to such well-respected and word-renowned and literally famous researchers. I still remember how surreal it was when I first visited the Positive Psychology Center, and now that I kinda work there, it's become somewhat normal - but when I think about it, I realise that it's still really, really cool. Just wow.
  2. Paul Rozin gave a guest lecture in Positive Psychology today, and it was fantastic. I loved his perspective on the need for more cross-cultural research because at the moment, it is so very American, and the idea of "cultural borrowing" - borrowing things that other cultures do well.
  3. Had my first rehearsal for Opera Scenes. Really enjoyed singing with my duet partner. We blend really well, yay!
  4. Wrote a reflection paper for my mindfulness class, which I decided to blog as well. It was actually quite a nice task, to take the time to think and write about mindfulness and human development.
  5. Found out that I topped my quantitative methods psychology subject last year! Can't attend the psych awards ceremony since I'm kinda on the other side of the world, but it was really wonderful news since I put a lot of effort into that subject.

What did I learn? 

  • Amy Wrzesniewski, the researcher who developed the idea of Callings (vs jobs & careers) and job crafting, did her undergrad at Penn and published 6 papers on different topics with Paul Rozin while she was an undergraduate. Just...what?!?!? How do you even...??? #inawe

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Day 68: Mindfulness and everything

What went well? 

  1. Got a lot of research done. I have scrolled through all 5000+ hits for "mindfulness" on the PsycInfo database and collected a sample of the ways in which it's being used. Some themes:
    • Benefits of mindfulness: health, attention, positive psychological functioning, sex...
    • Mindfulness changes the brain
    • Mindfulness is a tool
    • Mindfulness & compassion
    • Mindfulness-based everything (stress reduction, cognitive therapy, eating awareness...)
    • Mindfulness helping with psychopathology (depression, anxiety, substance abuse, addiction, psychosis)
    • Mindfulness as part of a "new wave" of therapy (the "third wave")
    • Issues in defining mindfulness, and how much the Western usage reflects the original Buddhist concept
    • How effective is it?
    • How much mindfulness do you need to make it effective?
    • Mindfulness with youth and in education
    • Mindfulness for so many populations (cancer patients, teachers, HIV patients, college students, parents, prisoners)
    • Integrating Buddhist ideas with Western psychology
    • Teaching mindfulness through internet/apps/phone programs
    • Another use of mindfulness, headed by Ellen Langer's research, which was popular around the 1980s - 2003ish, and is now rarely used. Her concept is of mindfulness as active distinction making, kinda more to do with creativity and openness to novelty.
  2. Cooked a healthy meal that actually tasted pretty good! Veggie + tofu + noodle stir-fry with peanut sauce. I have discovered the power of cooking with sauce!!
  3. Got a nice email from someone I met at the mindfulness conference, sharing resources and generously offering to connect me with people in the future.
  4. Someone shared their password with me for something, and it made me laugh. Obviously I can't share what the password was but it was highly amusing :)

What did I learn? 

  • Why haven't I learned (still!) that I should just take a nap when I'm fading? I mindlessly wasted an hour or so before giving in. Listen to the body...
  • How to put together a Consent Form for a research study.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Day 67: Back to business

What went well? 

  1. It was a pleasure to get back into Intro Buddhism lectures! Also, got my mid-term back and it was the highest mark I've ever gotten for anything in my life, so that was pretty cool. Guess the 30 or so hours of preparation paid off. Yup, I'm actually putting an insane amount of effort into this subject, but I am also ridiculously motivated. It's amazing how much of an impact an awesome professor can have.
  2. Handed in my sociology of education mid-term. Good to get 50% of the course out of the way.
  3. Got a reply from the professor I met at the MiEN conference, who sent me his presentation slides & other resources, which was helpful.

What did I learn?

  • This week, the largest conference in the world on Asian Studies will be in Philadelphia, with over 4000 visitors.
  • I need to start writing soon!! According to my intro Buddhism professor. I'm still stuck in the data collection phase with over 600 data points/references so far on the use of the word "mindfulness". But yes, this week I'll really be buckling down on both research papers.
  • And stuff on the relationship between age and mental illness, different types of Buddhist meditation, and the neo-traditional perspective on education. Sorry for the non-descriptiveness of this, this is one of those short + sweet posting days since I've been awake & going since 7.20am and it's now 12.20am! One interesting thing I will mention is that one perspective on education is that schools have gradually come to take over more of the roles traditionally performed by family - schooling itself, as well as things like sex ed, driver education, authority figures.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Day 66: Crash

The past couple of days of bad sleep + coffee caught up to me today, and I was extremely unproductive this morning, then crashed and napped for over an hour this afternoon. But managed to nearly finish editing my mid-term due tomorrow, and will do the final adjustments tomorrow morning.

What went well?

  1. My laptop charger died. But I bumped into a friend who lent me his charger, then because I mentioned it on Facebook, another friend sold me her charger which she no longer needed!!!! Total lifesaver. I was starting to lament a bit at the prospect of not being able to use my laptop for a few days - it's kinda an extended part of me and my cognition, while at university anyway. Actually, since all my notes and files are on Evernote and Dropbox, I could still get most things done on public computers, but would have less flexibility with location and wouldn't be able to take lecture notes digitally. So it ended up really well!
  2. This video was so cute and made me laugh so much.
  3. Did some leisurely reading today!!! (While procrastinating on editing my mid-term) Started reading Stephen Batchelor's Confessions of a Buddhist Atheist, which is basically a memoir of his journey into Buddhism, and how he came to his current position on "Buddhism without Beliefs" (another book he wrote), a stripped-down, secular view of Buddhism as just a philosophy without any mysticism or beliefs about rebirth etc. I read that latter book and found it influential, so it was interesting to start reading about his journey.
What did I learn? 
  • You can top up your PennCard online and the cash goes in immediately. I thought it would take time, so was about to walk over to the library to top up my card for printing, but bumped into a friend who informed me otherwise.
  • My friend who sold me the charger mentioned that there is an app called Venmo that allows you to pay your friends. You can either link it to a card or just keep it as a virtual account that you use to make transactions between friends. Really useful for splitting bills, taxis, etc.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Day 65: MiEN Conference - Mindfulness as a Foundation for Teaching and Learning

I felt that today's program at the conference was so much more relevant and useful. I think yesterday's conference was more geared towards actual educators, although I still gained a lot of ideas and empowerment from the day. The main things I took from yesterday were: 1. Mindful listening. This really set the tone of the conference and carried into today too. 2. Whether we like it or not, we are constantly embodying certain values, attitudes, and mindsets in our behaviours, and influencing everyone around us - students, children, friends, family, strangers. It's kinda empowering but also a huge responsibility. Hence, it's incredibly important to be aware of our actions. Anyway, onto today!

What went well? 
  1. Professor Mark Greenberg's presentation was the absolute highlight of the conference for me. I would have come to the conference just to hear him speak; that's how valuable it was to me. His perspective was thoroughly scientific, grounded, practical, and nuanced, and it helped me with my thinking for my research paper and helped me to expand my views. I learned a lot! Appreciated the opportunity to meet him during the break.
  2. Also appreciated the Holistic Life Foundation presentation. These guys had a pretty different perspective, but it was absolutely beautiful and so heartful. It was inspirational to hear about the transformative work they've been doing, especially with "problem kids". These guys are so full of love.
  3. Had a great conversation over lunch with another undergraduate student (from Yale). It is so refreshing to talk about important issues in mindfulness with people who are engaged, passionate, and can also take a critical, nuanced and thoughtful approach.
  4. Really enjoyed learning about the iBme and .b programs for teenagers. For the latter, a high school teacher who also teaches mindfulness gave the presentation, and it was great to see what the program looks like in action, and to connect with someone who is actually doing it!
  5. Finished a blog post for my regular blog on Mindful Communication!
What did I learn? 
  • Insights from Mark Greenberg's presentation:
    • Contemplative practices should not replace other social-emotional learning programs because the former are rarely comprehensive, focusing mainly on the intrapersonal components of social-emotional learning competencies (the red segments), leaving out the interpersonal aspects. So, contemplative practices are not a cure-all! But, they can deepen the skills of each of these competencies.
    • Mindfulness and yoga have been privileged in research on contemplative practices, but there are so many more, it is such a rich area to explore, look!
    • From a public health policy perspective, Greenberg would prioritise funding for  high school students, due to their metacognitive abilities, abilities to potentially understand the nature of the mind, and transition they're going through, based on the current state of evidence.
  • During the panel session, Mark Greenberg also mentioned that there is nothing like the development of a connection to a teacher for deepening mindfulness practice. Books, audiotapes and apps are useful tools, but they can't replace that human connection.
  • iBme = Inward Bound Mindfulness Education. They run retreats for teens that involve both silence and interaction. What's awesome is that even though the retreats are $795 for a week, they have never turned anyone away due to lack of funds. Last year, they gave $60,000 in scholarships. Awesome.
  • It would really suck to be a hostel manager. That guy does not sleep.
  • I realised that the reason that I had to pay an "exit fee" for the metro system the other day was that I was supposed to load an extra $1 onto the single-trip farecard (to pay for the card, I guess) on top of the stated fare. Also, even though it's supposedly "single-trip", you can actually trade-in the card to the machine and get 65c metro credit back on that card when paying for your next trip.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Day 64: Mindfulness in Education Network Conference - Courageous Schools Workshop

What went well?

  1. Got a lot of interesting ideas out of the Courageous Schools workshop today, even though it was somewhat different than expected. More on this tomorrow. I felt very mindful today. Was also inspired by the day to write a blog post on mindful communication - watch this space! I do have more thoughts on the day, but will share them in tomorrow's post after the whole conference!

  2. Another great vegan dinner. This is probably one of my favourite things about the US, tbh - the ability to find really nice vegan food really easily. Practiced mindful eating.

  3. Got an email from my mentor in Melbourne inviting a few of us to coffee with her and to possibly work with her on a positive psychology paper. I'm obviously not in Melbourne at the moment but still find it heartwarming that she's making such an effort to engage keen students and to mentor us by providing this kind of opportunity, and hopefully I can still be involved via email etc.
  4. The library at American University doesn't require student IDs for entry, so I managed to get a bit of work done there after the conference.

What did I learn?

  • Expect transportation dramas. Leave way more cushion time than you think you need. After my taxi didn't show up, Uber saved me again and I got to the conference only 20 minutes late, but it was more expensive than it needed to be.
  • Travelling is improving my confidence/risk tolerance. Walk 30 minutes alone in the dark? No problem! Jaywalk? Sure! Sleep in a room with a bunch of random travellers? Why not, it's cheaper! No need to plan transport ahead of time, Google Transit/Maps will get me there! I don't know if this is a good thing or a stupid thing. But I believe that with common sense and situational awareness, it's really ok.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Day 63: Durham, North Carolina...and first hostel experience

So, my flight got delayed so it's now nearly 12am and I'm not yet at my hostel for the night. Need to get decent sleep before conference tomorrow so this post will get written tomorrow!

But while I'm waiting...some WWWs today:

1. Really enjoyed seeing Duke University's campus. It is super green and beautiful. Especially appreciated their impressive chapel and the huge garden they had.
2. My plane landed safely. That is always a good thing.

Edited 14/03/14!

Here is the proper post.

We got the bus from Richmond in the morning to Durham, North Carolina. Arrived at noon, got lunch, spent a couple of hours exploring Duke's campus, then left for our flights back to DC & Philly, respectively. So yeahhhh we literally spent less than an afternoon in Durham...possibly ill-conceived (mea culpa!), but hey, at least we can tick another destination off our bucket lists! Plus, Duke actually was very beautiful. Look:

Sarah P. Duke garden!
This garden is huge!! And probably unbelievably beautiful when the flowers bloom in Spring.
Even the Admissions office is cute.
Duke Chapel.
This place is about as big as St Paul's Cathedral in Melbourne. It's HUGE!
Pretty building.
Duke apparel is cheaper than Penn's.
And if you're really keen, you can even buy Duke chairs! 
Worst photo ever. Posted just for lulz. Visited the Cameron Stadium (basketball). It was pitch-black, but at least I know that they're environmentally friendly, not wasting light when there are no players on the court!
Thought I might as well wander around the psychology/sociology building. Was hoping to get a sense of the kind of research taking place here.
Such as this. An interesting topic indeed!
This made me smile too. Mentoring should totally be recognised more at Melbourne (and higher ed in general). Mentors are awesome!
Another pretty building.
So that was all fairly smooth sailing, until the evening, when my plane got delayed for about an hour, so I didn't get to my hostel in DC until nearly 12am. And when I got there, I was greeted by an EXTREMELY frazzled manager. I mean, this dude was frazzled to the max. Why? Well, due to errors in their system, they screwed up royally and totally overbooked their hostel, because various sites kept advertising their beds even though they were booked. This has been going on for about 2 weeks. Since I'd arrived so late, I didn't get the bed I booked (they gave it to someone else), but they managed to find me a bed in the incomplete hostel they were renovating two doors away. For a moment there I was actually worried that I was not going to have a bed for the night, because they actually had to turn people away after a certain point. So it ended up ok. But the dude seriously needs to stop complaining to every single customer (he's still doing it!!) about how shit the situation is and how he needs to fix it and how it's a total nightmare...I felt like I was giving him therapy or something ("Sounds like it's been really stressful"), and it was 12am! I do appreciate his efforts in trying his best to make sure everyone got a bed though, even if it meant calling up every hotel/hostel in DC and being resourceful with using spaces that hadn't been completed yet.

What did I learn? 

  • Shared shuttles aren't necessarily faster than public transport. I was totally mehhhhhing at the thought of a 1 hour journey on two buses to get to my hostel from the airport, which would have got me there just before 12am. So I decided on a whim to go for the shuttle bus that was at the airport, and it got me there at about 11.40am. So, it wasn't that much faster and at $29, nearly 10x more expensive. Possibly more reliable, comfortable and safe though.
  • Travelling is definitely an opportunity to practice mindfulness and acceptance. There is great value in a mindset that I realised could be a gratitude exercise - let's call it the "could be worse/at least I have ___" exercise! "Sure, I booked a bed in a four-person dorm and ended up in an unfinished 8-person dorm, but hey it could be worse, at least I still have a bed, a working toilet, and running water!!!" Also, I realised that my 4-day hike around Lake Waikaremoana over summer definitely helped build some resilience and tolerance for not-so-ideal conditions. Bare-essentials accommodation on hikes kinda make hostels (which I just overheard someone saying, "this is like a homeless place", LOL) feel like luxury hotels. Almost. My standards for being satisfied have dropped dramatically, apparently.
  • Apparently, Chicken & Waffles, together, is a thing. Weirrrrrrd!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Day 62: Richmond, Virginia

Today was a day of perfect timings for everything, plenty of nature, and good food! Although the main reason we came to Richmond was basically because it was on the East coast and we randomly picked it off the map, we found plenty of things to do here and had a pleasant day.

What went well? 

  1. It was an early start. We got up at 5.50am to catch a 7.30am bus to Richmond. We got to the train station at about 6.30am and were wandering around looking lost because we couldn't find the actual station, but someone kindly asked what we were looking for and pointed us in the right direction, and we caught the train on time and therefore got to our bus on time.
  2. Enjoyed sight-seeing in Richmond. We walked to Maymont estate, and walked around the sprawling, peaceful grounds and a tour of the mansion.

  3. Also, went to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts! I can't believe this place was free too. Very extensive collection, and so interesting to see how much art varies according to time and place. Was also really impressed by the work they had on display from some high schoolers (the first three pictures):
  4. The artist who drew this was 14!? Wut.

  5. Public transport in Richmond was super cheap. It was only $1.50 from Maymont to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, and only $1.75 to our hotel (which was over an hour away by public transport - it would have been a 15 minute taxi ride, but we chose to save that money and put it towards good quality food since we didn't really have anything better to do in the evening).
  6. The weather generally worked out really well. It didn't start raining until midday, when we'd walked around most of Maymont, so went and took shelter on the mansion tour. Then it rained while we were in the art museum and really pour when we were on the buses, but generally wasn't that bad when we were actually outside. Thanks, weather!
  7. Found a great place for dinner (the HappyCow app has served us very well, showing us all the veg-friendly places close by). I got this miso tofu dish, and it was probably the best meal I've had since I've been in the US. I was inspired!
  8. Satisfied my cupcake cravings induced by the sadness of Georgetown Cupcakes running out of vegan cupcakes yesterday. We walked down the street after dinner since we had some time to kill before the bus arrived, and found Carytown Cupcakes just down the street! And they had vegan cupcakes, woo!! So I got a lavender vanilla one and an apple cinnamon one. Totally savoured the lavender one, it was actually a perfect cupcake - perfectly moist, fluffy, and yummy. You would not be able to tell at all that it was vegan, and I can say that honestly since that statement does not apply to all vegan baking!!
  9. Saw this on the street too and thought it was cute:
  10. Our hotel was really, really good value! We stayed at Days Inn Richmond and it was only $45 for a double room. Yes, $22.50 each. Actually cheaper than an actual hostel. Including free wifi and free breakfast! Highly recommended!

  11. Proof-read the final study design for the new positive intervention we've been working on in our Positive Psychology lab!! It's actually super exciting to see it finally coming together and getting ready to be submitted for IRB approval and then unleashed onto the public!! Wheee!!

Woah that was a lot of WWW's. Hey, what can I say - it was a fab day!!

What did I learn? 

  • You have to pay a $1 "exit fee" to get out of the metro system in DC. What!
  • If you look sufficiently lost, people will help you :P
  • Carytown cupcakes are awesome.
  • Apparently, according to Victorian etiquette, it was not ok for two women to converse for more than 15-20 minutes. Bizarre!
  • Just read that an Obesity gene has been identified, apparently. I find these genetic developments very interesting to follow, because it really creates questions about determinism, free will, and personal responsibility. What proportion of variance do genes account for? How much control do we really have? Hmmmmmm...

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Day 61: More Washington DC!

What went well? 
  1. Got a lovely dose of nature and flowers this morning at the United States Botanic Garden. It was musically themed!

  2. Visited the Franciscan Monastery. Highly, highly recommended. I'm not religious but was very impressed by the church and found the tour interesting. The interior was magnificent and gave me shivers. It's definitely worth a visit.

  4. Visited Georgetown Uni (very briefly). It's tiny, but cute!

What did I learn? 
  • Georgetown University has a dedicated meditation room/building on campus!
  • Georgetown Cupcakes is a seriously thriving business. This is how long the line was (and generally is) - about a 15 minute wait:
  • People wait this long just to get cupcakes?!
    • Also had a very bizarre encounter in the line. This random woman behind us from Dallas started talking to us about how excited she was about the cupcakes (because I was expressing my excitement about how they actually had vegan cupcakes too - prematurely, since they'd run out, sadface), and went off on a rant about fatasses in the US and how she didn't want to pay for Also very, very loud and expressive. I was wondering if that was (stereo)"typical" of someone from that area, but my friends later were saying that they thought she was probably drunk because there was just no social filter whatsoever. Plus, just as we finally got to the counter, she disappeared, even though she'd been so looking forward to getting a cupcake! So. Bizarre.