CT meditates: a comedy (7) Monkey Mind


Monkey Mind! A term particularly apt, at least for me, as I navel-gaze into my own brain (hmm, mixed metaphors also seem to be a personal problem). Sitting quietly in a chair paying attention to breath CANNOT BE THIS HARD, but my analytical internal left-brain monkey is active all the time.

I mentioned my new-found meditation habit to a colleague who tells me “I did T.M. (transcendental meditation) for 20 years. During my hippie days…” (there has GOT to be a story there).

I also mentioned this to a patient of mine, who suffers from severe anxiety, as a possible solution, and that I’m starting to meditate myself, but am having some difficulty. He smiles, says that he does this every morning for 30 minutes, and that it helps him a great deal with his anxiety symptoms. What we don’t know about our patients…

And then, he amazes me by reassuring ME! “Don’t worry, doctor, keep focusing on your breath. You’ll get it.”


So, coming on the journey with me? I’m going to stay with a 3 minute meditation, eyes closed, with just the simple goal of spending 3 minutes in a comfortable pose, and focusing on breath. Then to watch the inevitable stream of thoughts floating by, observing each one as a puffy cloud, letting it just drift by without diving into it, and returning to my breath.

CMIO’s take? Sometimes advice comes from the most unexpected places. Be ready to accept it!

CT meditates: a comedy (6) Book of Joy


Reading this book, on the recommendation of my children. If parents can take credit in any way for their children’s accomplishments and thoughtfulness, I will ride their coattails all the way.

This book is the outcome of a weeklong meeting between two 80+ year old spiritual leaders summing up the common threads of their philosophies and hard-won learnings.

It is a delightful read, full of humor, grace, thoughtfulness, kindness and love. And, the Archbishop also teaches the Dalai Lama to dance(!)

Dr. Tutu tells a story of defusing a crisis during the Apartheid years in South Africa. He was attending a funeral of a black leader shot by white police officers; both were in attendance and the atmosphere was tense. He tells the story:

“…’at the beginning of creation, God molded us out of clay and then put us into a kiln, like you do with bricks. God put one lot in and then got busy with other things and forgot about those he had put into the kiln. And after awhile he remembered and rushed to the kiln, where the whole lot was burned to cinders. They say this is how we black people came about.’ Everyone laughed a little. And then I said: ‘God put in a second lot, and this time he was overanxious and opened the oven too quickly, and this second lot that came out was underdone. And that’s how white people came about.'” [pp 217-218 from the Book of Joy]

This seemed to defuse a particularly tense situation.

Of course, my parents taught me an alternate Asian version ending of that story, that “God’s third batch came out perfectly; that’s how Asian people came about.”

Nevertheless, this book is filled with philosophical gems, including ideas of meditation, presence, gratitude, compassion.

Remember: those coming on the journey: 3 minutes of meditation every day! I’m holding both of us accountable to this important habit!

CMIO’s take? Secular or not, world leader or not, presence, gratitude, compassion are never out of style.

CT meditates: a comedy (5). Three domains of physician well-being


So, lets get this clear. I have heard both sides of the debate about “Physician Wellness Programs are Lipstick on a Pig“. Yes, of course. Many physicians are burned out because of inefficient practice, and often it is due to the setup and requirements of the Electronic Health Record. Therefore, according to this contingent, recommending ANY physician wellness program is like saying “suck it up; here’s some candy; hope you forget that your EHR sucks.”

In fact, in my organization, I have heard the sentiment: “CT Lin is personally ruining the quality of care at our organization” and also “SOMEONE (maybe CT) caused this dictation outage“. He just wants us to TYPE in the damn EHR.

On the other hand, I very much like the tripartite chart shown above: Physician Wellness can be described as three interrelated things: Personal Resilience (that CAN be improved with Wellness programs, and meditative practice, as I’m embarking on this month), Practice Efficiency (that I have and will continue describe our Sprint efforts and Care Redesign efforts), as well as a Culture of Wellness (where hospital and medical leadership – see my last post- emphasize how we will work together, and seek constant improvement).

Remember: those coming on the journey: 3 minutes of meditation! I’m holding both of us accountable to this important habit!

CMIO’s take? Don’t take it personally. It is both a meditative practice, and good career advice for a CMIO. I am a personification of this principle.

CT meditates: a comedy (4). Book review: Start Here


So, today is about gratitude. Thank you to Dr. Patrick Kneeland, Executive Medical Director for Patient and Provider Experience at UCHealth. In his efforts to improve provider resilience (just one component of the many things he does), he has brought together about 50 providers to take the Life XT (cross-training) course. The course book is Start Here, pictured above. The actual course is 4 x 1 hour group sessions led by a facilitator, we have just had our second session.

What is unique about this, is the combination of millennia of meditative traditions combined now with modern neuroscience and neuroplasticity research. It speaks to both sides of my brain. And that I now have 50 colleagues with whom to discuss this journey.

The Life XT program is described here http://life-xt.com/  And no, I am not an investor or in any way related. It is just cool. I would highly recommend the book.

Remember: if you are coming on this meditative journey with me, I’m going to stay with a 3 minute meditation. Eyes closed, with just the simple goal of spending 3 minutes in a comfortable pose, and focusing on breath. Then to watch the inevitable stream of thoughts floating by, observing each one as a puffy cloud, letting it just drift by without diving into it, and returning to my breath.

Got it?

CMIO’s take? Let the craziness of the season flow by you. Be an island of peacefulness for yourself and maybe for others.


CT meditates: a comedy (3). Stumbling meditation!

from: http://www.clevelandbuddhisttemple.com/meditate.html

Falling over during Walking Meditation!

So, our family traveled to Shambhala mountain retreat just outside of Ft. Collins (no, I’m not necessarily a Buddhist, Shambhala  is also a great place for a secular retreat) for a Thanksgiving Retreat and Renewal. I’m happy to bend your ear for an hour talking about how fun that was (meditation, yoga, hiking and doing tai chi in the spectacular foothills of the Colorado Rockies).

Today, is my time to tell you that I am bad at walking meditation.

For meditation at Shambhala, we sat for 3 sessions of about 90 minutes, with 10 minutes of Walking meditation interspersed during the session. The instructor struck the chime about 15 minutes into our seated session, and up we get, hands held just-so (one hand in a gentle fist, thumb tucked inside, other hand gently cupping, hands held just above the belly button). Then we’re off, striding at about one step per second, perhaps at 3/4 mile per hour (thinking of a treadmill pace) in a big circle around the room, eyes half closed, staying in sync with everyone. I’m working hard (see? doing it wrong to work hard) to empty my mind of everything except how my feet feel on the floor.

Trouble is, I get so involved in thinking “Hmm, when do I shift my weight? Do I land on my heel or my toe? How do I roll my foot for the step? Do I use the outside of my foot more? How much sound am I making? Whoops! going too fast. Whoops, slowed down too much” that I ACTUALLY LOST MY BALANCE and fell out of line. Three sessions of walking meditation, and I LOST BALANCE EVERY TIME.

Apparently, I’m bad at this. Gonna keep trying anyway.

Fun fact, I did have a chance to do walking meditation (a bit quicker though) at Denver International Airport, coming back from a trip. I was walking (avoiding the moving walkway) through Terminal C, in a relatively calm area, and half-closed my eyes, picked a spot in the distance, and strode peacefully, focused on breath, for about 100 breaths.

The yards melted away and I felt energized by the end. Hmm. From theory to practice! And I did not fall over. Bonus!

CMIO’s take? More new things to try. Failing is not always bad. Put away your skeptic’s mind from time to time.

CT meditates: a comedy (2) Insight Timer

resting meditate

Well, sure. Some of you with great flexibility might right away achieve the classic meditation pose, with legs crossed, feet upturned into a locked triangle. That is too advanced for me. I prefer sitting in a chair to meditate. Either feet on the ground or even in a nice recliner. Hey, why suffer when meditating? And, I’m a beginner, gimme a break.

So, coming on the journey with me? I’m going to stay with a 3 minute meditation, eyes closed, with just the simple goal of spending 3 minutes in a comfortable pose, and focusing on breath. Then to watch the inevitable stream of thoughts floating by, observing each one as a puffy cloud, letting it just drift by without diving into it, and returning to my breath (All you overachievers out there, feel free to do more).

Want to try something fun? Here’s a free app I’ve found (for both iPhone and Android) called Insight Timer that produces a nice chime to begin and end your 3 minutes.


There are of course many others: I have heard of Headspace and Simple Habit apps.

CMIO’s take? Take time. Breathe. I’ve found that even 3 minutes of brief meditation creates awareness, focus.

CT Meditates: a Comedy (Post #1)

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I am introducing an ambitious goal for myself: a DAILY blog post between now and the end of the year (every day of the month of December 2017) on MEDITATION, and my comedic efforts at self-awareness, presence, gratitude, compassion, engagement, all the good things that come from such practice. In this age of Physician Burnout, and for Physician Informaticists, it is particularly apt.

I have lots to say (hmm, ironic: how does that comport with being silent, present and self-reflective?) and will say it in little bits each day.

Will you come along on the journey? And those of you who meditate, please leave a comment or please, teach me something. And those of you who don’t yet, maybe consider joining in?

My entree into meditation was a book called Start Here (more on this later), with the simple idea that meditation can have benefits in as little as THREE MINUTES A DAY. Now, who doesn’t have 3 minutes? Really. And your task, for these 3 minutes is:

  • Sit comfortably, legs relaxed, feet on the floor or resting comfortably, hands on thighs or in your lap, good straight posture, in a place where you are not interrupted, preferably a quiet place.
  • Eyes closed.
  • Breathe in and out naturally.
  • Notice your breath, perhaps focus on the tip of your nose as the air goes in and out.
  • Inevitably, other thoughts will creep in. Notice them, set them aside, let them drift away, return to your breath.
  • That’s it. This is your WHOLE JOB for 3 minutes. It is harder that it looks.

First time I tried, I could not do it, had dozens of intrusive thoughts in the 3 minutes. It was an entire tragi-comedy in my head.

CMIO’s take? MEDITATE! I will try to keep my daily posts short, with insights I’ve gleaned. I will attempt to meditate every day, and I invite you to join in the doing and in the discussion.

30 Second Trick for Learning and Memory



Something I learned while taking that Coursera course on Learning how to Learn. Turns out it is never too late to learn something new. Here’s an idea that you can LEARN IN 30 seconds, and could have lasting repercussions:

Summarize your last meeting, or discussion, or class, or event that you want to remember, in 30 seconds. Maybe even an entire book. The act of having to prioritize, to summarize, to choose what is important, to actively recall — this engages the frontal cortex just enough to help re-inforce memories. It is indeed a “mind-sprint” equivalent of an 100-yard dash.

This is not only backed by science (see that Coursera course!) but feels right. I currently use a little black book to write down minutes of my meetings. However, I DID NOT take the extra 30 seconds to summarize. I think I will begin doing this.

CMIO’s take? Just like one should never be “too sick to go to the doctor,” one is never too old to learn something new. Thirty seconds is all it takes. Do you do this? Let me know!


Book review: Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant

Rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a hard book to read, in my opinion. Sure, maybe it is for people who have suffered a recent loss: a parent, a sibling, a son or daughter, a spouse. In that case, there are tons of insights that someone who needs a spirit guide, a confidante, could use.
Ms. Sandberg’s husband of eleven years, Dave Goldberg, CEO of SurveyMonkey, dropped dead suddenly, during a vacation, leaving her with 2 young children and pieces of a shattered life. Option B is her way of coping, and describes the 2 years following that event. Her friend’s quote: “I know you want Dave back, but Option A is not available. Let’s just kick the shit out of Option B.”

Ms. Sandberg, who is well known for her book Lean In, is Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, is good friends with Mark Zuckerberg, with Mark Cuban, with Elon Musk, and with many others. At times her casual references to conversations with these folks, as well as contacts with those who responded to her posts on Facebook of her tragedy and her response to it in the following years, seems a bit entitled. How does one empathize with a widow and single mom who has access to all these resources?

And yet, she navigates these waters with grace. Her vulnerability, honesty, raw emotion, are channeled, over time, into productivity, into insight, into lessons learned for others following her path. She also learns from others and revels in their stories as well, as sources of healing.

Her chapter on resilience is particularly apt.

After spending decades studying how people deal with setbacks, psychologist Martin Seligman found that three P’s can stunt recovery: 1. Personalization-belief that we are at fault; 2. Pervasiveness-belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and 3. Permanence- a belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever.

She speaks of ideas about self-compassion and self-confidence. Think of 3 things you’re grateful for, and write them down, EVERY night. This has been shown to be as effective as anti-depressant medication for improving depression symptoms over time. For confidence, write down what you have done well: contributions. This can improve self-confidence over time, especially after major setbacks.

Bouncing forward: ideas about pre-traumatic growth (that is, not waiting until trauma, to grow your own mindset): on your friends’ birthdays, write notes to friends thanking them for their contributions to your life. Gratitude to others often benefits the giver as much as the receiver.

Taking back joy: ‘playing music at the edge of our capabilities is what the psychologists call a “just manageable difficulty.” This level requires all of our attention, giving us no room to think about anything else. Many of us remember being happiest in flow-the state of total absorption in a task.’

Raising resident kids depends on 4 core beliefs:
1. They have some control over their lives.
2. They can learn from failure
3. They matter as human beings
4. They have real strengths to rely on and share

She cites Carol Dweck, the famous educator, on the concept of a Growth Mindset: ‘I am not yet as good as I am going to be.’ Learner’s mindsets can easily be influenced, based on the type of feedback they get from teachers and parents: move away from statements like: ‘you’re smart’ and toward: ‘you worked really hard on this.’ Value persistence and grit (a growth quality) over intelligence (perceived as a static quality: something you have or don’t have).

Asking for help is the heart of building resilience. Sometimes just being there is supportive and appreciated.

CMIO’s take? Resilience takes many forms. In human matters, it is an effective response to trauma. In recent years, to a CMIO, resilience is not just a personal reflection on the difficulty of the job. It is also a stepladder offered to colleagues suffering unprecedented levels of professional burnout related to electronic systems with as-yet inadequate coping systems, inadequate practice efficiencies and inadequate cultural wellness safety nets. A worthwhile read.

Review: The Practicing Mind: Bringing Discipline and Focus into Your Life

The Practicing Mind: Bringing Discipline and Focus into Your Life
The Practicing Mind: Bringing Discipline and Focus into Your Life by Thomas M. Sterner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Beware! This pretends to be an eminently readable book about practicing music or sports WHEN ACTUALLY it is about mindfulness, Eastern religions, happiness and a guide to living your life fully. Wow.

The author reads his own book on Audible.com and is quite relaxing to listen to. I was happily enjoying this book at the superficial level of learning how to be Present during practice to improve skills, and then began to realize the deeper levels of meaning. He draws a contrast between the young mind, being told to “practice for 30 minutes” and finding the tedium and the disappointment crushing, as one’s expectations of the skills one would LIKE to have being always out of reach. He compares this to an adult learner, who, with more life experience (we hope) is typically practicing music or sports more for enjoyment. In the second case, the thoughtful, present learner, can experience the actual practice as enjoyment: “I am always getting better, even this minute.”

A wonderful metaphor the author provides is that the sailor, who is always fixated on the horizon in the direction of travel of his sailing ship, finds that the horizon always recedes, and is constantly frustrated at his lack of visible progress. Instead, the sailor who looks at the waves constantly crashing against the bow, and the visible crests and troughs, the fish, the dolphins that constantly pass by, is not only aware of, and enjoying the present, but also the inevitable forward progress he is making. The second sailor is much more aware and satisfied in the moment.

The author speaks about the overlapping 4 S’s, as a way of thinking about being Present, with the concrete example of “cleaning out the garage: an overwhelming task that begs to be deferred”:
-Simple: break a big task down into bite-sized parts, think of only part of the garage
-Small: “I will only clean from the northwest corner, three lateral feet until the window.”
-Short: “I will only spend 45 minutes on this task and consider it done.”
-Slow: “I will be aware of every movement and action that I am taking.”

He notes that if we can pursue the 4 S’s in any task, large or small, we can find ourselves in what others later called “flow state” where time disappears, one is focused and can actually enjoy accomplishing tasks. And if done well, this actually takes no MORE time, and often takes less time, because we are less distracted and perform better and more accurately.

I have applied these principles myself to practicing the ukulele (itself the embodiment of simple and small), to rehearsing my kata for karate, to writing a blog, and, when set up properly, to answering my inevitable backlog of email. Mihaly Cziszemnihalyi’s Flow speaks to this, as does Daniel Pink’s Drive.

CMIO’s take: where can YOU apply the 4 S’s in your life? Life lessons appear in the most unexpected places. Here’s wishing you can apply a few principles of the Practicing Mind in your life.
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