Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Day 111: Cognitive Impairment

What went well? 

  1. 3.5 months, 33 pages, 9500 words, and 100+references later, handed in my Buddhism paper!
  2. Hung out with a couple of friends tonight and played Cards Against Humanity.
  3. Hilarious email from Buddhism professor:
What did I learn? 
  • Sleep deprivation causes serious cognitive impairment. I had been confidently reproducing that Pali text passage across the week, but wasn't so confident this morning or convinced that I'd gotten in 100% right in the actual exam. Oh well. I think it was right, but again, not sure.

Day 110: An almost-all-nighter

What went well?

  1. Definitely got a lot done. That is all.
  2. Actually enjoyed writing my intro Buddhism take-home exam because it was very creative and hilarious.
  3. My Buddhism prof is ok with me being way over the page limit - he told me not to worry about the length! Saves me a lot of struggle with cutting stuff down. Unheard of at Melbourne.

What did I learn?

  • Stuff really gets done when the deadline is impending.
  • Looking up citation details for old books is a drag and takes far longer than expected.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Day 109: Singing recital!

What went well? 

  1. Had my singing recital today, and it went really well and so many (ten!!!! ahh so exciting!!) friends came to support me!!!! Here are the videos: Ah! non credea mirarti & Ach, ich fühl's.
  2. Ended up bumping into two of my friends to came to my recital at HipCityVeg where I went with another friend afterwards, and we hung out together over dinner and had a great conversation about singing, then hung out for a bit more after dinner. It was awesome!!! We are all planning to hang out again together.
  3. Decided I want to do more with my singing, so am entering the SAPACS in July in Auckland. Even though I missed the late entry date by a week, the organiser is allowing me to enter. Also, I really appreciate my singing teacher's efforts in helping me to figure out my repertoire for these competitions.

What did I learn? 
  • The economics of Buddhism is an underresearched field.
  • The American religion view that spiritual life is more important than the material may be a culturally specific view. A lot of Buddhists don't see the problem with commodification and commercialisation - e.g. selling amulets, Buddhist amusement parks, offerings at shrines. The commodification and commercialisation of Buddhism isn't destroying, selling or polluting the religion, but doing what the religion says by helping people e.g. providing them with jobs.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Day 108: Homeostasis

What went well? 

  1. Started off the day with a run, and it was really peaceful out.
  2. Got coffee again this morning, and it kept me focused all day. Combined with the homeostatic regulation of study I guess (given that I did very little yesterday). Anyway, I finished writing the (draft) of the second section too, so am now at 23 pages, and need to write up the last section - implications etc., tomorrow (or technically "tonight" since it's past midnight), then will have a whole day on Tuesday to do a thorough cut & edit. So it's going!
  3. Got a lovely email from my mum. I appreciate her mindfulness of me (yes, I'm totally bringing back 17th century quaint usages of mindfulness as consideration, memory, and regard!).
  4. Got more RSVPs for my singing recital, so am looking forward to that.

What did I learn? 

  • Caffeine is amazing. That is all.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Day 107: A social day!

What went well? 

  1. Bumped into a friend at HubBub (cafe) this morning when I was grabbing a coffee and intending to reason my way through my arguments for my paper. Her friend wasn't able to meet her anymore so we ended up catching up over coffee and had a fantastic conversation! It was great to get to know her better, and such a nice way to start the day. Also, HubBub coffee is great.
  2. Went and saw a bit of the Penn Relays with another new friend. As we entered, someone gave us their tickets to pretty much the best seats (we had free tickets as Penn students, but their tickets were worth $42) so that was really nice of them. When we left, we paid it forward to a couple of other students by passing those tickets on. Also, the weather cleared up really nicely and the sun was so nice.
  3. Had another great D&M with another friend at our "study party" this evening (2 hours of study, 3 hours of chat :P). I just can't express how much I value substantive conversations. It's stimulating, rejuvenating, rewarding, deepens relationships, and puts everything into perspective.
  4. Refined my argument a bit, and I'm less mrahhhh now! :)
  5. It looks like lots of people will be coming to my singing recital! So that's exciting.
What did I learn? 
  • I'm ok with having an unproductive day (in terms of getting work done) when the time has been spent in other good ways (i.e. with people and cultivating relationships). Being unproductive is only stressful when you are being destructively unproductive (e.g., lamenting over how unproductive I'm being or trying to push through even when the brain says no) rather than doing other healthy activities (e.g., taking breaks, exercising, socialising). Because now I feel ready to get back into this paper tomorrow. It's coming along. I'm at about 18 pages of solid writing/argument (still to be cut down) and 20 pages of notes/word vomit to process or delete.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Day 106: Mraaaaaaahhhhh

What went well?

  1. Skyped my parents. This is possibly the first substantive (i.e. beyond "hey, how's it going) conversation I had all week. People are important. Especially family. I haven't been social enough (i.e. at all) this week.
  2. Singing practice went well, and I'm feeling good about my upcoming recital, and looking forward to sharing it with my friends. That's the thing about diversifying sources of self-esteem. Even when certain things aren't going so well (my paper; it's back to mraaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhh), at least I still (think I) sound good!!
  3. Gave someone laundry detergent (because someone had used theirs all up, and I'm not going to use all of it by the end of semester). Again, another source of self-esteem - trying to live in congruence with my values. Having a bad day? Help someone out!
  4. Have now memorised the whole Pali passage for the Buddhism final. Now just need to reproduce it a few times a day in the lead-up to maintain it in my memory.

What did I learn? 

  • I get miserable when I haven't had substantial conversations with people for even a few days. Remember, friends buffer against stress!
  • It is difficult to think clearly when frustrated. I hit a roadblock with my paper and just need to reason my way through it - but that does take some grit and deep work, which is uncomfortable.
  • Having extended blocks of open time does not guarantee that work will get done.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Day 105: Lock-down mode

What went well? 

  1. Got a reasonable amount of work done, and had good energy levels throughout the day.
    • Rewrote the first 7 pages of my research paper
    • Memorised another 2 words of the Pali paragraph for my Buddhism final
    • Took lots of notes on Buddhist ethics for a news response about Buddhist violence in Myanmar against Rohinga Muslims
  2. Skipped my first class of the semester (an extremely low-value class), so saved a couple of hours (and a lot of frustration) there
  3. Did laundry, so I have clean clothes!

What did I learn? 

  • From a Buddhist ethics standpoint, the worst kind of action is one that is intentionally committed and one knows what is going on, but does not recognise that one is doing wrong.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Day 104: The joys of a clear thesis statement

What went well? 

  1. If you've been following this blog then you are well up to date with the journey/struggles I have gone through with this Buddhism x Mindfulness research paper! In particular, I had been tearing my hair out trying to figure out what I'm actually trying to argue, since the scope (and length) of my paper exploded and became overwhelming. Well, today, I went and saw a Learning Instructor at the Weingarten Learning Resources Center (the equivalent of an Academic Skills Advisor at Melbourne) to get some help with clarifying my thesis statement. That was a struggle too, and actually she didn't say all that much. But the process and the "deliberate practice" and continued thinking it required - just talking about my paper and ideas for more than an hour - unlocked ideas, and I thought of a thesis statement as I walked out the door. Here it is!! 
    • "The meaning and origins of the concept of mindfulness have been oversimplified, but this was essential for the mainstreaming of the concept, or the “mindfulness revolution”. This enthusiasm has, in turn, stimulated a new and dynamic discourse about the complexities of mindfulness and its relationship with Buddhism. "
  2. And, got really positive feedback from my professor about this thesis statement, so am feeling much better about this paper now:
    • My reaction: Yayyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!!!
  3. Went to a talk, "How the Heart and Mind Connect: The Neuroscience of Meditation." It was so profound and brought some clarity into my day.
  4. Had another class debate for Buddhism! I was reading a sermon in the role of a 10-year-old novice monk, and it was really fun.

  5. Positive psychology lecture today was on the positivity ratio controversy. It was so good to get a new perspective on the issue that helped me feel more compassion and respect towards Fredrickson, who has suffered so much from this controversy. I now realise that the blame rests not only on her, but mostly on her dodgy collaborator Losada (who must have known full well what he was doing with his absurd application of mathematics), as well as on the reviewers who never questioned a paper that didn't really make sense and let it through for publication, and every other psychologist who cited and talked about the paper without fully understanding it. We can learn a lot from these controversies, and it helps our discipline grow through self-reflection, even while the reputation of both the people involved and the discipline suffer too.

What did I learn? 

  • It really, really helps to talk your ideas through with someone for an extended amount of time, even if they aren't necessarily providing much input or reflecting on what you're said. Just talking about it stimulates thought and clarifies what you're trying to get across. So I've gone from a reaction of "MRAHHHHHHHHHH" (literally) every time I look at my paper to a feeling of calm confidence moving forward with restructuring and rewriting parts of it.
  • The grad student who delivered the guest lecture in positive psychology today had debunked the positivity ratio paper 4 years before Brown et al. did, but chose not to publish the paper because he was new to the field and it would not be gracious. So interesting to hear about the politics and tact required as an emerging academic.
  • With mindfulness, often attention and intention are uncoordinated. So, attention -> awareness and worldview -> intention, but these are often not working together. But, if we can coordinate them, so that we get attention and intention working together, then we'll be filling our awareness with stuff we actually care about.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Day 103: Physical toughness

What went well? 

  1. Had a really good lab meeting this morning with another person at the PPC. He provided great input into what we should do moving forward with launching our study - it's not quite ready to launch yet, but we're getting there.
  2. I survived my high intensity interval training class. I hadn't been for over a month, and was actually ready to quit about 10 minutes into the class. Was literally feeling sick because it was really gruelling. But, I didn't quit!! So it is worth celebrating this small achievement of willpower.
  3. Finished building the post-test survey for the study.

What did I learn? 

  • I could do with some more physical toughness - pushing the physical limits of my body, especially relating to fitness. I think this is one area where, if not pushed, I could tend to give up more easily. I would not survive Boot Camp. Oh my god, just thinking about the HIIT class makes me feel sick again...eek. Bad associations?? And yet, physical toughness is so linked with mental toughness...mind over matter, etc. So maybe it's just about increasing self-discipline and the power of the mind to support the development of physical fitness?
  • Desperate times call for desperate measures. I was procrastinating pretty badly this evening, so printed off all 56 pages of my Buddhism draft/notes (double sided, 2 to a page, so 14 sheets) and headed off to the library with just my notebook, those notes, and a pen. No phone. No laptop. No escaping. Just writing. So, did get a little bit more writing and thinking done. It seems to help.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Day 102: Sense beneath absurdity

What went well? 

  1. Ok, so in case you hadn't gathered, my Buddhism prof is awesome. Well, he kinda stepped it up a notch today as he handed out our final exams. It's mostly take-home, and when I read it standing in line for lunch, I literally started cracking up laughing. The line that set me off was, "The fourth section you should complete by 2074 around 5pm". The fourth section was "Realize full awakening...". Hilarious. Part I was also bizarre. We were given two scenarios to choose from and "fill in the story" and respond/make a decision using Buddhist concepts. The first story was fairly normal, but the second was completely absurd. Basically, a story of debauchery, stupid drunk tourists, and then trying to justify that to some monks with Buddhist concepts. When I read it (it was very detailed and vividly written), my first reaction was "Wtf did I just read?!?!" But now I realise that even though at surface level this looks completely absurd, it's actually a great way to test for meaningful learning, creativity, and well, actually THINKING. It takes talent to write a test that actually tests for the important things...and is kinda hilarious at the same time.
  2. Coffee is awesome!!! Well, I was kinda not grounded and somewhat anxious in the morning, but then had a really productive day - wrote another 1800 words for my Buddhism paper (I'm at 42 pages now and about 80% of the way through my first draft, yay for cutting 22+ pages...), started preparing for my Buddhism final, and submitted my contribution for the class debate. I was actually in flow! And am glad my energy was sustained today. Forget time management - you can have all the time you want, but it's useless without energy management. These next couple of weeks are going to be rather caffeinated, I have (cheerfully) entered lock-down mode for papers and exams and stuff.
  3. Got positive feedback from the post-doc I'm working with for the final checks I made on our study that we're about to launch. It's good to know that I'm doing something right.

What did I learn? 
  • Those who rate money as unimportant to life satisfaction are more satisfied, and those who rate love as important are more satisfied.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Day 101: I just increased my limitations

What went well?  

  1. I guess I essentially took the weekend off since my friend was visiting me, and I had a great time hanging out with her and catching up! I didn't get any meaningful work done, but, that's not a bad thing because work always gets done, especially when the deadlines are looming. Hence, limitations (in time, resources, energy) make you more productive.
  2. Visited Liberty Bell and Independence Hall! I can't believe I've been in Philly for 3 months now and only just went properly into Old City to see the historical sights.
  3. Had the most efficient group-work experience ever. Wrote a 1400 word paper about the issue of self-immolation by Tibetan Buddhists as a form of protest - from the standpoint of a student of Buddhist ethics, with a group of 5 people, in 1.5 hours. Penn kids are efficient! Especially when we don't care because it's not graded and was sprung on us on Friday at recitation =.=""""""""" How can they dooooo that!!! Anyhow, it was a positive group-work experience :)

What did I learn? 

  • More about American History in one afternoon than I did my whole life. I had actually been oblivious to the fact that America was formed from British Colonies. Wow. #ignorance
  • Philadelphia is a super-historical city.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Day 100: Spontaneous Saturday

What went well? 

Today was actually a cool day that I can say, yeah, that's a pretty cool story.

  1. Visited the Morris Arboretum in the morning - the University owns this place. Enjoyed the sunshine and the nature.

  3. A couple of guys started talking to us on the bus back. We ended up getting lunch/dinner with a bunch of people (who they'd also just met), then jamming with violin, electric guitar and ukelele, then going to the "Night Market" at Rodin Rooftop lounge with amazing performances by several cultural dance and arts groups. Totally random but awesome turn of events!!
  4. Did my grocery shopping and my friend helped me to carry stuff back, which helped a lot.

What did I learn? 
  • People at Penn respect culture a lot. Also, we have some amazing dance groups here, who really love to dance, put their hearts, intensity and energy into it, and are amazingly supportive of their team-mates. And everyone respects that.
  • Good things happen when you clear your schedule and go with the flow. Just say yes!
  • Writing this Buddhist paper brings up experiences that relate to Buddhist teachings. Like, dukkah. Oh my god, I feel so much unsatisfactoriness towards this paper at the moment. Just, MRAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH. (my reaction every time I look at it). MRAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

Friday, 18 April 2014

Day 99: Opera Scenes!

What went well? 
  1. There was a lab meeting on positive education today, and the headmaster of St Peter's College, Adelaide came and spoke. It was uplifting to hear the heart behind his work. Even more, Professor Seligman shared some profound insights about positive psychology. It is so special to be at the centre of this.
  2. The Rodin Opera Scenes concert went really well!! Got really positive feedback from people, and I really enjoyed it.
  3. My friend from high school arrived, and I'm enjoying catching up and hanging out with her!
  4. We got IRB approval for our positive intervention study, so we'll be launching that soon!
What did I learn? 
  • Professor Seligman thinks that the test of ideas should be whether the real world takes it up. This is why positive psychology and positive education have been such successful ideas, where other seemingly academically sound and good ideas have died. Positive psychologists are out there in the world, working with practitioners and making it accessible and relevant.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Day 98: This is what music is about

What went well?
  1. Went to a talk this morning at the PPC on "The Sounds of Kindness: Observing Positive Interpersonal Behavior in Everyday Life". I was totally mind-blown by the talk and all the possibilities it revealed. Basically, Matthias Mehl at the University of Arizona has pioneered the EAR (Electronically Activated Recorder) as a new method - it's a label microphone connected to an device that records random snippets of the sounds of everyday life. You can deduce a lot of things from the sounds the participant is surrounded by - where they are, what they're doing, who they're talking to, what kind of interaction it is, what kinds of words they're using, what they're feeling, how much they talk, etc., etc. I'm so excited for the potential for this new method to bypass a lot of the limitations of questionnaire measures, and to complement them too. I really hope to use it in my research in the future!
  2. Opera Scenes Dress Rehearsal was great!! It was so cool to see everyone else's scenes. Some of the acting was just hilarious. Oh my god, we have some seriously good actors in the midst. my duet, we kinda moved our pianist to tears. And she is embarrassed to have cried at Monteverdi, given that she studies later music (post-1840s). So, I took that as a good sign and a huge compliment!!!! I'm so excited for the performance tomorrow night.
  3. My friend from high school confirmed that she will be visiting me from Indiana (where she's studying) this weekend!

What did I learn?
  • Women are NOT more talkative than men. The book, "The Female Brain" made some completely unsubstantiated claim that "A woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000", but Mehl and his colleagues went through their EAR recordings and found that both sexes used about 16,000 words a day, and that sure, women spoke about 500 more words, but this difference was not statistically significant. Also, the three most talkative participants in that sample were males. Neurosexist myth debunked! Interestingly though, in self-reports, women report being more talkative than men. It just goes to show the force of cultural and societal expectations and norms, and the difference between self-concept and observed behaviour.
  • Kindness comes as a package, or "Kindness cluster": Empathy, Affection, Gratitude, Praise, Optimism. People who show more of one, tend to show more of the others.
  • People who show more everyday kindness laugh more and experience more positive emotion, and more meaningful social connectivity (socialising, disclosure conversations, and substantive conversations). But, everyday kindness seems to be uncorrelated with stress, depression, and life satisfaction.
  • Mehl and colleagues are using the EAR to study the "Sounds of Compassion" - whether a compassion meditation course actually affects daily behaviour. So exciting.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Day 97: So much elevation

What went well? 

  1. We finished off a film in Buddhism about this Thai monk who raises novices who have been orphaned or whose families are too poor to look after them. It was amazing to see the work he was doing in cultivating positive mental qualities and life skills in the kids and giving them opportunities that they would not have had. Really inspirational.
  2. In the positive psychology lecture today, we watched The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. Oh my god. Words cannot describe how inspirational, uplifting and elevating this was. It was actually kinda intense - I literally cried at one point, and was pretty preoccupied for the rest of the afternoon. Randy Pausch absolutely embodied positive psychology in every single way in the way he lived his life. He left behind an amazing legacy, both in his work and in the example he led. WATCH IT!!!!! That is all.
  3. Choir concert recordings came out. You can listen to my solo here.

What did I learn? 

  • Too much inspirational stimulation is also kinda emotionally intense and tiring.
  • Kids can flourish and develop in amazing ways when you push them and challenge them beyond their comfort zones - combined with love.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Day 96: Passover Seder

What went well? 

  1. Productivity is back (for the moment! everything is anicca (impermanent), after grasping!), apparently. Got about 4200 words on the page for my Buddhism paper, with about 4.5 hours of work. A lot of this was direct quotes so I haven't actually paraphrased or "written" it properly yet, but it still feels good to get everything I think I want to include on the page, and to refresh my memory on the ideas - that's one thing I've found with this research - it's hard to keep track of all these complex ideas at the same time, and yet that's what's important for drawing connections. Will need to think about a system to deal with this issue for future work, especially things like theses and journal articles.
  2. Went to a Passover seder, organised by a classmate. It was really interesting to gain some insight into Jewish culture, because I really don't know much about Judaism, and am actually quite interested in different religions now (not in converting to anything, but in understanding what people do and what it means to them). It was great to have this new experience. Also, I appreciated this:

  3. Got a lot of potential RSVPs to my solo recital in two weeks! It will be lovely to have the support of friends there.

What did I learn? 

  • Asana looks like a great tool for project management & organising communications. My mentor in Melbourne emailed me this morning about it, asking if I thought we should use it for our journal article project, so I checked it out and thought it looked great - definitely saves a lot of emailing and keeps communications in one place.
  • Kosher (Jewish dietary restrictions) everything exists. Including Kosher coke?!?!?! (no corn syrup)
  • Bits and pieces about Reform Jews and how they differ from Orthodox and Conservative Jews. The overall impression I got is that Reform Jews take a much more modern approach to their religion, trying to make it relevant to the modern context, and not taking the Torah as the law and direct word of God, but understanding that it was written by humans, for a certain time & place, even if it may have been divinely inspired. So even though it's still important to them, they interpret it with these considerations in mind. Reform Jews are also a lot more progressive in terms of welcoming gay/lesbian Jews, and also in terms of feminism.
  • Even more impermanence. You know how it was absolutely gorgeous these past few days? No more!!! Storm. Wind. Cold. A massive worm massacre too, washed out by the rain...ew.
  • A man was shot to death last night about 4 blocks away from where I live. But, as my friend puts it so eloquently in a Facebook status:
  • *snaps*. Oh god, I'm snapping! That is an American thing to do too btw.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Day 95: The World's Toughest Job

What went well? 

  1. Admired cherry blossoms on the way to class. It's worth leaving early just to have those extra few minutes appreciating nature...
  2. Was happy with what I got on my sociology of education mid-term.
  3. Got another 1000 words down for my Buddhism paper. I've "written" about 18 pages already and still haven't finished my etymology section (which is only part A)...but I'm going to move onto the history (part B) tomorrow because I'm over etymology and definitions for now. I'm expecting to get to about 40 pages of word vomit before I start cleaning up the mess and making it a somewhat coherent, nuanced and refined 20-page paper :P
  4. Made more progress on my literature search for the journal article. Over 600 hits for resilience + social-emotional learning search terms, narrowed down to about 179 potentially relevant articles.
  5. Got really positive feedback from my mindfulness professor on my paper outline.
  6. Watched a totally elevating video about the World's Toughest Job...

What did I learn?

  • The amazing Magic Carpet food cart has been at Penn for 30 years!!!!! And they haven't changed the menu. I guess, if it works, then that makes sense! And it really does work, because they're always the most popular food cart with a huge line every lunchtime because they make high-quality, nutritious, healthy vegetarian food. I'm super grateful for them!
  • When people get health insurance for physical health, they make more use of services for physical health, but when people get health insurance that includes coverage for mental health, the use of services spikes even more dramatically (overuse of services by people who may not "need" them - "need" is a relative term here). This is part of the reason why insurance companies are hesitant about providing parity of coverage for physical health & mental health issues.
  • Read an op-ed by Adam Grant, Raising a Moral Child. It's basically a research summary of how to raise kind, compassionate, and helpful kids. Here are the key points:
    1. Praise good character ("I guess you're the kind of person who likes to help others whenever you can"), rather the just the action ("that was a nice and helpful thing to do") 
    2. Express disappointment (not anger) at bad behaviour (communicates disapproval of the bad behaviour, coupled with high expectations and the potential for improvement: "You're a good person, even if you did a bad thing, and I know you can do better.")
    3. Generous actions speak far louder than words. Preaching without practice doesn't work in either the short- or the long-run.
  • Oh my god, I have had a really unproductive past few days. Eek. I've just been a lot more distracted and procrastination-prone lately. It must be the lack of pressing deadlines or something. I just have to keep reminding myself, studying is homeostatic! It'll turn out ok because work always gets done when it needs to get done, and my mind sub-consciously seems to know when to self-regulate to do that.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Day 94: Sunshine and smiles

What went well? 

  1. Ancient Voices concert went really well. It was the best we'd sung the pieces. After my 10-minute test on Wednesday, that'll be one subject down!
  2. Hung out with my friend afterwards and went for a long walk to the art museum & back. We admired the cherry blossoms there and on campus (and also the squirrels. always squirrels.). It was so energising! And a GLORIOUS day. Again. Sunshine and 27 degrees celsius (Hello, NZ summer!) with a warm breeze.
  3. Crazy selfie


    Sunshine! I look ridiculously happy in this photo. 
  4. Got a reply from the guy who gave the talk a couple weeks back about how digital tools can help bootstrap Chinese learning. He gave some really helpful suggestions and kindly offered to help me with the process and invited me to stay in touch! I'm actually pretty excited about this now, and I've realised that it's all about making learning personally meaningful by getting down to the why of why you want to develop a skill, and the specific content that is interesting and useful for you. I'm glad that digital tools can bypass a lot of boring stuff and help me get straight to translating stuff about positive psychology and mindfulness back and forth from Chinese & English. This is another thing I have gained from Penn - just by going to this talk, I got inspired to improve my Chinese - and I had no strong intentions of doing so prior to that! Interconnectedness is an amazing thing. If this didn't happen, then that wouldn't have happened...etc.
  5. Got another 1600 words on the page for my Buddhism paper.

What did I learn? 

  • This choir can pull it together really well. I think in the end, singing is a lot to do with attention. We often made mistakes during rehearsals, but were great in concert, and I think it is to do with the fact that we were all on the ball today.
  • My level of Chinese has a term - "kitchen Chinese" - "i.e. a good basic mastery of the language and good pronunciation and tones, but just lacking a lot of specialized and "adult" vocabulary".

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Day 93: Spring Fling!

What went well? 

  1. Checked out the Fling happenings in the Quad and around campus (aka frat houses). Lived vicariously through observation (damn vocal health precautions!!!!). Anyhow, I have to say, this is the happiest and liveliest I have seen Penn (thanks, alcohol!). It was just a weekend of complete letting go. But everything contributed to it - the gorgeous weather, the activities in the quad, friends hanging out together, flowering's Spring!

  2. Went for a nice long run around University City and along the river. It's actually so beautiful outside at the moment. I realised that Penn's campus is even prettier in Spring - there are so many flowers and flowering trees everywhere!
  3. Helped to publicise the upcoming Calm Clarity workshop at Penn, and someone in one of the Facebook groups I shared it too kindly offered to help spread the word further!
  4. Despite getting much less done than I hoped I would (I'm going to blame it on Fling!! It's really hard to do stuff when you know everyone else on campus is having fun!), I'm going to give myself credit for at least finishing the etymology section for Western "mindfulness" (first draft, anyway), and finishing the explanation of the translation of the Buddhist sati into mindfulness.

What did I learn? 

  • Spring Fling can be summarised as: "A weekend of complete hedonism."
  • Also, Fling is a time when the cliqueyness of Penn is super salient! People in various groups (e.g. sororities, frats, clubs, performance groups) walk around in packs, wearing the same shirts (with some clever Fling + group-related slogan). So, from a social psychology POV, Fling is a lot about affirming group identity and a time of group bonding.
  • Not everyone is a fan of Fling. One guy in my dorm thought that it's "pathetic", "for various reasons". I'm not sure what these reasons are, but I am intrigued.
  • The "ugh" (feeling of resistance to tasks - e.g. writing papers) can be pretty strong sometimes. To overcome it, I printed out my notes, grabbed my notebook, and walked somewhere without my phone or laptop and started writing out the section by hand. I didn't get that far - two solid paragraphs - but it was something. In the meantime, I've given up (lack of sisu, the Finns would say!!) on the idea that I'll get anything more done today and am going to actually have an early night. I will be in bed by 10.30pm!!!

Friday, 11 April 2014

Day 92: Flourishing with illness

What went well? 

  1. We had a great lab meeting today! Basically, one of our lab members has been working on making the experience of taking a well-being questionnaire more engaging, and she'd prepared a whole powerpoint to show us how she'd conceptualised a new design to take it online and provide meaningful, concrete feedback. It was exceptional. We were all blown away. I don't think I'd seen the post-doc we're working with so excited before. That really energised us all. We are a happy lab :) So now, we get to brainstorm characters that demonstrate varying levels of aspects that contribute to well-being, to make it more concrete especially for younger questionnaire-takers.
  2. Got a lot of research assisting work done. See below.
  3. Today was so warm. It was about NZ summer warm. Wheee!!

What did I learn? 

  • It is absolutely uplifting and inspirational to be working with highly competent colleagues. They raise you up too and push you to be better. It's energising.
  • It is possible to have symptoms of mental illness alongside elements of flourishing. I thought this seemed awfully contradictory and counterintuitive at first, but as I thought about it more and as we were discussing it in our lab meeting, it began to make a lot more sense. It isn't so paradoxical to imagine that someone can be struggling with symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress, and yet still have a deep sense of meaning and purpose, close relationships, be engaged in life, and contributing to their communities, for example. A Penn alumni who had made a huge impact on some people I knew, especially with his work on educating people about mindfulness, took his life on Monday, and I think that this idea of mental illness and flourishing coexisting makes this troubling event seem just slightly more coherent. This is why Keyes proposes a model of mental health with two axes - mental health and mental illness - and both can coexist. And we were talking about this apparent paradox may intensify the struggle for many people - i.e. if I'm struggling, than how is it possible that I'm still experiencing some form of wellbeing? So then, people have unrealistic and impossible expectations or ideas about what it means to be well - to be fully "happy" (often understood simplistically as just positive emotions). Yet being human is about embracing these paradoxes and embracing the richness of experiences that is life. One of the most important ideas I've learned this semester. And another reminder of how important it is to see the strengths and the good in others and yourself, no matter what else is going on in your life - and that it's possible to cultivate and appreciate more of the good to do something for yourself without necessarily ignoring, undermining or being obsessed with rejecting or getting rid of the "bad" (or, as I prefer, the "uncomfortable").
  • Source

  • This technique (I'm going to call it the "Productination List") works. I was procrastinating on writing my Buddhism paper I ended up starting my literature search for the journal article I'm co-authoring, and then processing all of the email correspondence for the post-doc I'm working with. The idea behind the Productination List is that at any given time, you have a lot of things, projects, errands, tasks, that you need to get done (I think in any case, it's handy to have a list of current projects handy anyway, just so you have a clear picture of what's on your plate). These have different levels of priority. You should start with the hardest/highest priority task, but if that gets too hard and you just can't face it with your current level of cognitive resources/energy levels, you can move onto the next hardest task. If you can't face that either, then you move down the list to the next task. And so on. And if you can't do the easiest task, it's time to give up and take a nap. Hence, it's "productive procrastination", mitigating most of the potential damage. So my list might look something like this:
    • Write Buddhism Paper
    • Write Mindfulness Paper
    • Literature search
    • Research assisting work
    • Write bio for concert program
    • Pay bills
    • Laundry
  • It's a bit of a bummer to be a choir soloist when it's Spring Fling (like, the BIGGEST DEAL for undergraduates here)!!!! I would have loved to have joined in on the various shenanigans but having to sing on Sunday rules out a lot of things, including talking loudly for one thing. Meh. Will check out the happenings in the Quad tomorrow though (there's a carnival on there) and take photos.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Day 91: Flow

What went well? 

  1. Made a lot of progress on my mindfulness/positive psychology paper. Built my conceptual model, analysed what social-emotional skills different positive psychology lessons cultivate, and wrote another 900 words. It's coming along! But I'll get back to it next Thursday and really immerse myself in my Buddhism paper over the next week. Hopefully, a first draft of the Buddhism paper will be done by next Wednesday, and a first draft of the mindfulness paper done by next Sunday. This is doable.
  2. Went to a free dinner held by the Penn Vegan Society. It was amazing. The chefs (from Penn's catering company) were talking about what they prepared, and I was so impressed by their thoughtfulness. It was a really wonderful experience, and I really enjoyed the conversations I had over dinner too.
  3. Singing practice went well today.

What did I learn? 

  • How to make a really easy vegan snack - literally blending raisins & walnuts together, then making balls/bars.
  • Ramsburg & Youmans (2013) found that "Meditation Training Improves Student Knowledge Retention during Lectures".

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Day 90: Spring is here!

What went well? 

  1. Woke up to an update from my mentor on our journal article topic - we're actually going to be reviewing a whole bunch of different approaches to student wellbeing, more broadly, and hopefully bringing together a disparate field and providing some conceptual clarity. Really exciting.
  2. Today was such a warm, sunny and beautiful day. I took a moment to appreciate these flowers in bloom:
  4. Got my sociology of mental illness test back and found that my minimalist strategy of only attending lectures, not doing the readings, and cramming for the test the day before works very well - I did even better than the first test, when I was actually keeping up with the readings. Grade inflation is your friend.
  5. Opera Scenes rehearsal was SO fun. We were trying out a few different interpretations that we'd thought of, and tried synthesising aspects from each of them. My duet partner's ideas were so creative and really fun to act out. I won't reveal any more details at this stage, but will post the video after the concert next week. But it should be good!!! Super excited.
  6. Wrote another 1200 words on my mindfulness/positive psychology paper, and started building my conceptual model. ALSO. The deadline got pushed back 2 weeks, which creates a lot more space. It's kinda ridiculous to be honest, but also somewhat unsurprising. It is a relief though because it means that it's due in 4 weeks, not 2 weeks, so I have a lot more time to really write something that I can be proud of.
  7. This made me laugh like a maniac. Granted, it doesn't take much to make me laugh like a maniac, but I found this particularly hilarious.

What did I learn? 

  • Cream of coconut is not the same as coconut cream. I grabbed the cans off the shelves without reading the label, and it turns out that it was some highly sweetened coconut-based substance that was designed for use in desserts and cocktails. Woops. Anyhow, I went ahead and made a "curry" with it, and let's just say that it's still "edible" (by my low standards of "edibility"). Biggest cooking fail so far, but oh well!
  • Buddhist attitudes to abortion. Basically, they see it as murder, but not in the sense of a morally repugnant act or a sin. Just simply that it's taking away the extremely rare opportunity to lead a human life and therefore a rare shot at working towards awakening. Also, it creates Selves - to see the foetus as separate from the mother. Despite this, they found that in Japan, they had extremely high abortion rates in the 1960s - over 50%!! Yet when interviewed, they said that it was a horrible decision, they felt like terrible people, they regretted. But then, when asked if they would have another abortion if they needed to, they said yes! What the heck was going on here? I'm not sure if this answers that question, but in Japan, they have elaborate rituals (Mizuko Kuyo - for stillborn, miscarried & aborted foetuses), like funerals, for aborted foetuses. The foetus gets named, and grieved over, and buried in a foetus cemetery. It's about acknowledging its existence and maintaining an awareness of the choices involved and the new relationship that has resulted from these choices, instead of denying that anything ever happened. And people, including those who can't have children, visit these cemeteries and give offerings and prayers to the dead children, honouring them and elevating them nearly to the status of gods. The conclusion the professor made was that in this way, religion provides an emotional resource - the space to say, "existence isn't going so well for me, and I need a little help". Things that we think are an inconsequential part of religion - like certain rituals and symbols - actually provide grounding in the world. To end the lecture series (we'll be watching a film & doing another debate to end the course), he concluded that perhaps the study of religion isn't so much about truth and belief - but rather about the idea that we are not alone.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Day 89: I am still a fan of word clouds

What went well? 

  1. Went to the gym. I don't know why the internal debate still goes on, 3 years into a regular exercise routine, but I suspect it's something to do with the Tuesday slump. Seriously, Tuesdays are consistently my worst days in terms of energy and mood - possibly because I don't have anything scheduled and because Mondays are so intense? Anyhow, the gym-going side of my brain came out on top and I did get some exercise done.
  2. Wrote another 600 or so words on the etymology of mindfulness. 
  3. Got invited to a Passover Seder (it's a Jewish celebration) next week. It should be a really interesting experience.
  4. This happened yesterday, but I'm still grateful for it. Something else that was a relief during office hours with my intro Buddhism professor was that he said that he doesn't mind if it's not a "clean paper" for my last section with the implications - the "so what?" of my findings. He just wants to see me think and struggle. I think that's such a cool attitude for a professor to take. It's a relief to not be expected to come up with precise "answers" for some of these big questions.

What did I learn? 

  • Arianna Huffington's been getting a lot of press lately about her new book, "Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder". After an accident caused by overwork & chronic sleep deprivation, she had to reevaluate her life and redefined success as more than just money & power. I find this to be very interesting, from  a discourse-of-wellbeing/happiness standpoint. I mean, it doesn't seem that radical or new of an idea to think that success should be defined by more than just money and power. Philosophers have contemplated what makes a good life for centuries, and this is exactly what positive psychologists and positive organisational scholars study too. We would call it an overemphasis on the "A" (accomplishment) of PERMA. And another key idea is that wellbeing supports success. But, despite all this philosophising and research, I wonder if what is required for real cultural change and the popularisation of an idea is for a person with high status and influence to rearticulate the idea.
  • I find it interesting that in its earliest uses in English, it was highly associated with gratitude (mindfulness as remembering the good in your life and the good that others have done), being a considerate and kind person, important for being a good Christian (having a habitual mindfulness of God), and overall being seen as a virtuous quality. Quite a bit more than mere attention/memory - even if that is what it literally means, the implications are more nuanced. Here are a couple of word clouds of quotes that include the word "mindfulness" in the (early) Western and Buddhist senses, respectively (I'll add the "secular/psychlogised" mindfulness word cloud once I make it):

Monday, 7 April 2014

Day 88: The Notebook Method is amazing!

What went well? 

  1. Am feeling more confident about my mindfulness/Buddhism research paper now. Used the Notebook Method to clarify some ideas, then talked to my professor about it, and that was super helpful. Then, wrote my introduction and started the etymology secton - about 600 words. So, it's going! I have officially put pen to paper (keyboard to pixels??)!
  2. My Sociology of Education class was cancelled today as the professor was at a big education conference, so I was able to audit today's positive psychology lecture on positive cultural influences. It was really interesting!
  3. Intro Buddhism lecture was engaging as always. This was really funny - the professor expressed some sadness that we're nearly done with the course, and a student commented, "I sense some attachment there!" Everyone cracked up laughing. It was funnier than it sounds - Buddhism in-joke?

What did I learn? 

  • Finnish people have a concept of "sisu" that they see as integral and unique to their national identity. Sisu isn't easily translated, but it has to do with grit, determination, guts, indomitable will, stamina, stubbornness, and determination.
  • Sabbagh et al. (2006) found that pre-schoolers in China had a 6-month developmental advantage on executive functions (measured by 8 tests) compared to US pre-schoolers. The role of cultural expectations for self-control.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Day 87: Just research, only research

I had an objectively boring day! Just working on my Buddhism paper. But that's ok, since I had plenty of fun last night and Friday night.

What went well? 

  1. There was brunch at Stouffer today and there was so much fruit. Pineapple, blueberries, strawberries, raspberries. I think I got enough vitamins for the week! Really appreciated the GA's effort in organising the brunch.
  2. Watched a few videos of various stagings of Pur ti miro, the duet I'm performing for Opera Scenes. The great thing about having singing as a serious hobby is that it's a productive form of procrastination! That is, it's enjoyable and a good brain break, but still "productive".

What did I learn? 

  • Not a whole lot - I was basically re-reading the notes I'd already made, since you really do forget stuff you read a month or two ago...and a good paper is all about the nuances and connections that you're able to make when you can hold and play with several ideas in your mind at once.
  • The brain pill in Limitless actually exists. And the results ain't pretty...I'm really intrigued by where neuroenhancers will go in the future, and what the public acceptability of them will be. Dr Olivia Carter wrote a really interesting column on this issue back in 2011, "Drugs to enhance us will enchant us … especially if there are no side effects". I guess my main fear is of a psychopharmacological "arms race". But it does make me wonder about human potential. Very hypothetically, what if there actually was a magic pill that could make everyone reach their full potential (intellectually, socially, emotionally, spiritually) and improve society? A pill for peace? Lol. Random ramblings.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Day 86: Birthday (again!)!

The love continued. And it was uplifting.

What went well?

  1. Got a really uplifting e-card from my singing teacher. Even though she's on her European tour and was preparing for a major performance in Germany (I think today??), she still thought of me. It's amazing.
  2. Had a lovely birthday dinner (at HipCityVeg) with friends. Even though I stated no presents, they gave me flowers, an awesome book of happiness, and cupcakes!! And even though one of my friends couldn't make it, she stopped by my dorm later to give me a card that she had made...probably the most special card I've ever received. Beautiful in art and in words. Just so touching.

  3. How much more perfect could this get??
    My reaction: :O!!!!!!!! Wow. So grateful.
  4. Had a great Skype session with my mum! It was the first time in about a month that we'd talked, oops. But it was definitely a positive and high quality conversation :) We started talking about a project I'm going to do over the holidays to improve my Chinese - translating that book chapter on positive education into Chinese, because all I really care about it being able to talk about my research in Chinese in the future. Looks like it will be quite challenging since there aren't necessarily satisfactory equivalents for several words in Chinese, but it will still be a great project.
  5. And....before having more fun afterwards, I still managed to write the first 660 words of my mindfulness paper! #workhardplayhard

What did I learn? 
  • I have friends who are true givers and who really care about me.
  • A little bit of thoughtfulness goes a long way and makes a huge personal impact.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Day 85: All you need is love

Today was a joyous day. The cool thing about being on the other side of the world is that I get to celebrate my birthday for two whole days!

What went well? 

  1. Got messages from my parents wishing me happy birthday. Was especially touched to hear that my dad woke up this morning and wanted to wish me happy birthday even though it's not my birthday yet in US time. Super cute. Feeling so much joy and love right now. <3
  2. Went and saw the Phantom of the Opera with my friend!! He bought me my ticket for my birthday, and even though they were rush tickets, we had AMAZING seats with a perfect and close view. The production, set, special effects, acting and singing all made for a compelling and exciting show.
  3. Before seeing the show, we got dinner at a vegan restaurant. It was unassuming, but the food was great and I had the most amazing vegan chocolate cake there.
  4. I was really high in energy today, which makes everything easier.
  5. We fine-tuned our survey for our study which we'll be launching soon!

What did I learn? 

  • The post-doc that I'm working with is meeting with the Melbourne GSE Dean tomorrow for coffee...I am so excited for her!!!!! I remember that a couple months ago we were talking about how cool it would be if she came to Melbourne...and now it looks like it could actually be a happening thing...??? Everything happens for a reason, and it's so interesting to see how interconnected things are.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Day 84: How fast can I write this post?

Today was the first time I very nearly forgot to write this blog. I need to sleep! But habit kicked in, so super-briefly:

What went well? 

  1. Someone found my lost key and handed it into the guard box. Such a relief as it meant I didn't have to backtrace my steps and search the library carrels to see if it had fallen out of my bag somewhere. And also, that I didn't have to pay for a lock change. All's well that ends well.
  2. My class presentation on my mindfulness & positive education paper progress went really well. I really love and feel alive when presenting and teaching, so definitely look forward to doing more of that in my future career.
  3. Read a few really useful sources for my mindfulness & positive education paper. It's definitely on a roll now, and hopefully I can terminate research by Saturday and start writing and have a first draft down by next Sunday.

What did I learn? 
  • Varsity students athletes have a pretty shit life. It's everything stressful about Penn amplified to the max. Today's Duckworth lab meeting was basically an informal conversation about mental health in student athletes & what can be done, and some lab members had experience as student athletes, and one said that she would only shower about once a week because a shower takes 20 minutes and she would only get about 3 hours of sleep because of all the practice and travel...and people hoped that they would break an ankle or something to get out of practice...sports was their only source of identity and pride, and that was basically why they did it. It was really disturbing.