Top of Mind

Things that spark our minds, touch our hearts, make us smile—or roll our eyes. Keep up with the latest in mindfulness.

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The Art of Being Quiet

You’re a busy New Yorker, stressed out, always running. Life is just too fast. And you never enjoy all the culture the city has to offer. Who has time? Visitors, that’s who. Maybe you are one of those visitors, trying to find the truly unique New York thing to do. The Museum of Modern Art, ever the trailblazer, has just the thing: Quiet Mornings. The first Wednesday of every month the fourth- and fifth-floor galleries open at 7:30 a.m., offering, MoMA says, “a rare chance to look slowly, clear your mind, silence your phone, and get inspiration for the day and week ahead.” In the morning quiet, you can fully drink in Monet’s “Water Lilies,” Rothko’s bold color combinations, or Agnes Martin’s minimalist landscapes, among other works. The event, cosponsored by Flavorpill, ends with meditation guided by a guest teacher from 8:30 to 9:00 a.m. A limited number of tickets (at discounted prices) are available online and first-come, first-served the day of, to ensure things don’t get too crowded. “While silence is not enforced,” Jessie Cappello of MoMA’s special programming and events department told Mindful, “it is observed. It’s a truly wonderful space.”

A Gym for the Brain?

A new meditation studio in Dallas promises a lot more than relaxation. Calling itself a “gym for your brain,” Mastermind has partnered with the University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for Brain Health to teach meditation classes informed by neuroscience.

Prison Reform

The US has the highest rate of prisoners in the world. In fact, though the US has only 5% of the world’s population, it has 25% of the world’s prisoners—at a cost of anywhere between $30,000 and $60,000 per prisoner per year. But there’s some good news: Programs are popping up both here and abroad to help men stay out of prison or prepare them to better serve their communities once released.

Education

In California, the Insight-Out program engages victims, prison administrators, community members, and inmates to find new ways of “doing prison” that are more humane and effective than the current punitive model. As part of the program, inmates mentor at-risk youth and receive certification in domestic violence training, which allows them to educate others about domestic abuse. In San Quentin alone, more than 400 prisoners have signed up for the program.

Resilience

In a maximum security prison in Naivasha, Kenya, inmates learn self-awareness and mindfulness techniques to help them become more emotionally resilient, improve their mental wellbeing, and increase their desire to be more helpful, honest, and responsible. Three other prisons—Langata, Kamiti, and Kisumu—are looking into using the program.

Yoga

“We firmly believe in the inherent goodness of every human being,” says Rosa Vissers, executive director Yoga Behind Bars, which offers yoga and meditation to inmates in Washington prisons and jails. The program’s popularity has led to a teacher shortage. The solution? Offering teacher-training to inmates. “We believe in transforming our prisons into places of healing and rehabilitation,” says Vissers.

A New Generation of Mindful Doctors

Teaching mindfulness to future health-care providers was a win–win bet for the University of Ottawa’s medical school. Students will now receive mandatory meditation training as part of the curriculum.

While elective mindfulness classes are available, including them in the required coursework got high approval from students and faculty.

“[This change] carries the hope that increased exposure will result in greater wellbeing for students,
and, ultimately, their patients,”
says assistant professor of neurology Heather MacLean.

Good News for the Planet

While the effects of climate change are frightening, bold actions around the world hint at hope for the environment.

Drivers of Change

The German parliament passed a resolution that sets the goal to eliminate all gas and diesel vehicles on the country’s roadways by 2030. The resolution, which requires ratification by the European Union as it would impact cars manufactured in EU nations, takes the “money talks” approach: Automakers would face significant tax burdens for failing to produce more electric-powered cars and get them out to the public faster.

Waste Not, Want Not

The US Department of Agriculture is researching a biodegradable—even edible—alternative to plastic food packaging: a film made from milk protein. Casein packaging, which department scientists says is 500 times more effective at protecting food from oxygen, and dissolves in water. A liquid form of casein could be sprayed onto some foods, eliminating the need for outer film altogether. Unfortunately it could be years before we see edible food packaging in the marketplace, and the subsequent reduction in our waste cycle.

A Guiding Light

In Pittsburgh, stoplights controlled by artificial intelligence have cut car emissions by a fifth and idling time by 40%. Driving time overall is down by 25%. The AI uses cameras and radar to predict second-by-second traffic conditions, and adjusts the signals accordingly. Carnegie Mellon University robotics professor Stephen Smith, who founded the company behind the Steel City’s pilot test system, says traffic congestion in the US produces 25 billion kg of carbon dioxide emissions, and costs the economy $121 billion a year.

Learning Mindful Life Skills

Some people find stress relief in a bottle or a pill. But a program in Albuquerque is trying to change that. Participants in a DWI-drug court initiative for repeat offenders attend mandatory meditation classes at the start of a yearlong rehabilitation commitment offered in lieu of jail time. “Very few of us are taught skillful means of coming down off that mountain of stress that makes drugs and alcohol so appealing,” says instructor Michelle DuVal. “And this is a way they can do that themselves, right in their own minds.”

Home in a Box

Of food, clothing, and shelter, it can be particularly easy to take the last one for granted. Unless you don’t have one. Inventor Tina Hovsepian created Carborigami—an ingenious collapsible shelter using origami principles—to provide protection from the elements for the homeless and people in disaster zones. 

Extra­ordinary Acts of Kindness

Ben Carter, a 14-year-old boy with severe autism, has drunk only from a Tommee Tippee sippy cup—now discontinued—since he was two. When his cup started to fall apart Tommee Tippee responded by making Ben 500 cups.

While working across from a children’s hospital in Indiana, construction worker Jason Haney wanted to help cheer up the kids staying there. So with the help of his daughter he made an 8-foot cut-out of the childrens’ book character Waldo, and planted it around the construction site each day for the kids to find.

Craze or Crazy?

Sometimes you just can’t decide if something’s groundbreaking or totally bonkers. Our jury’s out. What’s your verdict?

Spooky Decals

In China, drivers found a new way to deter one another from using high beams when sharing the road: reflective rear-window decals that light up when hit by light from high beams, many featuring spooky images of horror film monsters.

Rage Rooms

Bad breakup? Rough workweek? Let out your emotions the old-fashioned way: by smashing stuff with a bat. In the past few years “rage rooms” have sprouted up around the world, from Asia to Europe and North America.

A Caring Car

Honda teamed up with a company called Cocoro SB to make a car equipped with an “emotion engine”—an AI-based technology that allows machines to “artificially generate their own emotions,” according to a Honda press release. The car is part of Honda’s goal to “create new relationships between people and mobility products.”

Research Roundup

Seeking Happiness? Lend a Hand

Pampering yourself with a shopping spree won’t make you as happy as treating someone else. That’s the word from psychologists who ran a six-week experiment with 347 adults.

Results revealed that performing acts of kindness for others (or for humanity) led to higher happiness levels in participants—but indulging in oneself did not. The prosocial giving boosted the do-gooders’ positive emotions.

Reducing Biases in Medical Care

Like anybody else, health-care professionals aren’t immune to harboring implicit prejudices about people in socially stigmatized groups, whether it’s someone who is obese or from a racial minority background. Unconscious biases may contribute to disparities in the quality of medical care that practitioners provide, especially when they’re stressed out from a heavy workload. Yet solutions have been scarce. Writing in Patient Education and Counseling, University of Minnesota psychologist Diana Burgess and colleagues have floated an idea: “We propose that meditation training designed to increase healthcare providers’ mindfulness skills is a promising and potentially sustainable way to address this problem.” Among other positives, evidence suggests that practicing mindfulness could sharpen healthcare providers’ non-judgmental awareness of when implicit prejudices activate in their minds—and may increase their ability to control their responses. And loving-kindness meditation can foster empathy for patients, which may help reduce those biases.

Granting Wishes and Coping with Illness

Do make-a-wish programs for children with cancer promote their well-being? In a Spanish study of 75 seriously ill kids, those who had a wish granted by a local foundation showed less nausea and more positive emotions and life satisfaction three weeks later. Parents reported positive responses too, such as increased belief in the benevolence of the world. The magnitude of these changes was small, the researchers note. But when a child is extremely ill, every good moment counts.

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