Single pointed mind helps keep you calm (and safe) Chicago!


I love Big Think. (bigthink.com) And right now, they are singing my song!

During several years of teaching literature and writing classes at universities in Chicago I always start class by asking students to try an experiment for the length of the class, so we’re talking 8 to 16 weeks of time. The experiment is simple: stop multitasking! Instead do just one thing at a time.

They gasp in collective horror when I say yes, that means no Facebook and Twitter while doing homework. No music or TV. No talking on the phone while drinking coffee and smoking and driving and…

Just do one thing at a time.

One of my students recently wrote a research paper on the dangers of a distracted mind. (Hi Edward!)

Here is one very nice study from Harvard that tried the experiment in their own unique way. Doing one thing at a time really does matter!

So, give it a look and see what you think. Meantime, please everyone, just try it. (You can always go back.)

Not only will you be safer but you’ll be calmer too and so will everyone around you!

And those students? The ones who really give up the multitasking. They do better in school.

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Taiji and meditation calm and free the mind from stress


I’d like to let everyone know that I had no idea what she was going to say observing us. I’m so pleased that her experience attending classes with the assignment she had to really study what was going on makes for a wonderful clear report about the many benefits of taiji and meditation. I think I like it even more because she had no prior experience and came to it fresh.

Here is the full text of Audrey’s study.  Ethnographic Study of Calm Chicago by Audrey Maddox

Calm Chicago a sanctuary from city living


Calm Chicago a Sanctuary from the city way of living

There’s nothing like real experience to show you the benefits of taiji and meditation practice. Audrey Maddox, a student at Columbia College Chicago, spent the spring semester doing an ethnographic study of our center. Aside from the formal report she had to write she also used Prezi to produce this wicked cool presentation of what she found.

Thank you Audrey for practicing with us. Hope to see you back again in the fall.

Be the smallest person in the room


Taiji the way I practice and teach it, is not about being a big somebody. It’s not flashy. It’s soft, humble, and very simple. No fancy concepts.

Practicing taiji using just the amount of energy required but no more, and keeping the movements simple and relaxed can be a metaphor useful every day.

Don’t practice taiji to make it like, “Look at me everybody!” Practice with determination, yes – but be gentle, humble. And then you can take taiji to work with you.

Taiji teaches us to be soft, flexible, adaptable and humble. You can try to take the practice along into your relationships with family and friends and coworkers. See if you can try to be the smallest person in the room with no big views to defend and argue over. See how much more peaceful life become for yourself and for all those around you.

Patience and meditation: keep it practical and simple


There is so much out there about meditation…and patience. And at some point, it all becomes a lot of talking. I find this is true when I teach here in Chicago. There is no replacement for your own sitting experience. My teacher says it’s best to keep things simple and teach with a lot of silence. So whenever I hear myself talking for more than a few minutes I feel a deep urge to hush up already.

At the end of this, throw all these words in the trash and go sit. And then see for yourself. Have your own experience. All I ask is that you don’t make up your mind too fast. Play with patience for a long time. And then see what your experience shows you to be true.

This will be short.

Okay. When we sit we need to have patience.

In my own experience on what I might unwisely call a bad day of sitting. Bad day? What? Truth be told, there is no bad day of sitting. There is only practice. All that matters is that we do it. Mind wanders. Mind doesn’t wander. Whatever. In the beginning, this is a hard concept. When we are new to this crazy thing, meditation. When we sit and sit and wonder, “So, what’s supposed to happen?” And we look around and wonder, how does everyone here sit so still? Argh.

So how does patience come in? Maybe (especially) on a so-called “bad” day. The mind feels pulled this way and that. The body aches. Or itches. Or sounds outside make us curious. We wonder, when will the bell ring to say this session is over. You name it. One of my worst challenges is the feeling of being too hot. That nearly drives me mad. What I notice is that the more I allow my mind to be pulled, the worse I feel. Hmmm … curious.

Lately, that feeling occurs less often. When I sit, I try to just watch the feeling of “hotness,” and take it with patience, as it is, with no judgement.

So, close to the end now. What’s the connection between patience when meditating and patience in everyday life?

I think the more we practice being patient with hot or cold or pains in the body (or whatever…the 10,00 things that seem to suddenly POP up) when we do sitting meditation the more we can begin to work with patience off the cushion or bench or chair.

I guess, it’s this simple. The body in meditation can be a pretty intense mirror. If we can learn to sit and just observe and not wiggle around or scratch or leap up screaming… then maybe we are a little less likely to flip someone off on the highway while driving to work. Or whatever. You know what drives you crazy during your day.

The point is…it’s no good if all the meditation is only for the time we sit on the cushion. It has to work for everyday too. Not all at once. But slowly. Piece by piece. Moment by moment. We can build our patience one minute at a time. One breath at a time.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it out for yourself.

New class times for taiji, qigong and meditation @ Calm Chicago


Thank goodness practice teaches us that change is a fact of life. As conditions shift so can the center without any fuss or muss.

To allow all students the chance to deal with their own variable timetables, the center has updated the schedule of classes so that everyone will have the best chance to make it in for all the various classes here, even if they have to work late at the office some days.

You’ll also see updated pricing for private lessons for students who become member of the center. Now, instead of hour-long sessions being $60, members can take one-on-one classes for just $45!

The whole point is to be flexible, accessible and be of benefit. Let us know what you think.

Calm Chicago Meditation/Taiji retreat a real vacation for the mind and body


As usual, I forgot to take pictures. The irony never fails. After years in photojournalism and advertising photography, now that I run a meditation center, I nearly always forget to bring a camera!

So, here we were today at Calm Chicago –  Six people in the house for a half-day retreat, our first of the summer. We had a full range of experience; a few folks had never tried any meditation at all before or maybe just once or twice. One with six months under his belt. A melange of meditators if you will. Thankfully the day was not too hot and pretty quiet. Perfect. We had one wicked downpour. Cue the soothing rain sounds. Excellent.

In planning I’d been concerned about not throwing people too far into the deep end their first time out. So the day was structured so give participants enough time (hopefully not too much) with their butts on benches but alternating with dynamic forms of meditation as well. A little qigong, some Chinese health exercise involving movement coordinated with breathing) a little walking meditation.

People are routinely amazed at how much effort it takes to just sit still, breath and keep the mind focused on just the body and the breath. Suddenly you feel itchy or terribly sleepy when just a few moments ago everyone was wide awake. What the heck is going on with that? Or the spine hurts. A cramp in the foot. That weird new pain between the shoulder blades. And that’s just the body part. The mind rebels. “What’s this baloney about making the mind heel like a dog? What utter nonsense!” The mind whines like a petulant child. It prattles on producing artifacts of long-lost memories. Things that happened when you were five years old. Analyzing sounds coming up from the street below. Is that a police car or a fire truck? Maybe I should get up and look. And on and on.

But slowly over the course of the four hours, the minds began to fall in line bit by bit. The room grew quieter. Earlier fidgets gave way to soft breathing. The room wasn’t just quiet. It was full of the sounds of practice – that lovely refrain from restive twitching and a rising tide of mindful stillness.

We closed with a little beginning taiji, a good dose of movement to balance out the stillness. And here is where I was most surprised. I figured adding the taiji in after everything else was going to be just too much. But in fact it was just the opposite. (Thanks Scott for saying something to me.)

I was amazed at how much I could throw out there for brand new people to try and discover that it was just fine. It wasn’t too much it was just right. Lesson learned: once again I have to let go of my own notions, concerns, concepts about creating the perfect experience, about what people can do and roll with changing conditions. The great thing was…we just did it and it was really terrific.

And the day ended up being just what I’d wanted for everyone; a chance to have a taste of what Calm Chicago offers, the opportunity to enjoy a real vacation for the body and mind. To open the door for more people to discover what I already know, that meditation in its various forms, from sitting to walking and taiji and qigong is a real antidote to “civilization” and the various woes that seem to come with it. It’s nice to know we have a choice in how we live each day and to be able to share that choice with as many people as possible.

Thanks to all of you today for coming in and practicing together. I hope to see you all again real soon.

Hillary