321 Staying Mindful In A World Of Technology With Robert Plotkin

May 14, 2018

Robert Plotkin is an engineer, mindfulness practitioner, and the founder of Technology for Mindfulness. His background in computer science and engineering dates back over thirty years to his days programming an Atari 800 personal computer, through a degree in Computer Science and Engineering at MIT, and nearly two decades as a patent attorney specializing in patent protection for computer technology. His relationship to Zen Buddhism stems primarily from his study of Japanese martial arts for more than three decades. He is a graduate of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the Center for Mindfulness and practices mindfulness meditation. His fascination with the relationship and interactions between computer technology and the mind is reflected in his book on the automation of creativity in the field of inventing, The Genie in the Machine: How Computer-Automated Inventing is Revolutionizing Law and Business (Stanford, 2009).

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Effect on Emotions

  • Mindfulness has changed the way I deal with my emotions. This is where I think the stillness aspect of mindfulness is really helpful.
  • I talked a lot earlier about action and martial arts, in doing that you engage a lot of action, movement of the body.
  • I think for me, sitting meditation has been very helpful in dealing with emotions. Not just being able to notice what they are, but accept that they're there. Before I did sitting meditation, I engaged in a lot of trying to change difficult or negative emotions.
  • For me, sitting meditation has really, really been helpful. When you say dealing with emotion, just being able to be more aware of what they actually are at any given moment, being able to accept them and notice them without being able to change them.
  • I'm sure you know from your own mindfulness practice, sometimes that results in them lingering for awhile and sometimes I found that paying attention to them or even diving into them can result in them dissipating or changing in some way.
  • I'm always working on accepting in advance that whatever the outcome is, it is.

Thoughts on Breathing

  • Breathing is a very, very big part of my mindfulness practice. Always has been.
  • Even from the martial arts training; breathing really fairly fundamental and it's been interesting for me to do sitting meditation.
  • Certainly there are some similarities and differences between how I think breath is approached in the two. In my experience in martial arts training, we do pay attention to the breath.
  • If I can paint it in broad strokes, there is more of a goal or pragmatic aspect to working on and somewhat improving the breath.
  • We work on deepening it, we work on being able to maintain it as more of an even keel. We work on being able to breathe more deeply. Part of it is to develop physical power.
  • There is a pragmatic goal, so to speak, at least as part of the martial arts training and the breath. And so it's definitely been interesting to me to come at the breath and sitting meditation from a different perspective.
  • Although sometimes when I'm doing sitting meditation I will form the intention of both noticing the breath and if I notice that it's shallow, I will relax.
  • But I also some of the time, will merely notice what it is without trying to change it. That's been a different experience for me. Certainly in martial arts training, we often say that it begins and ends with the breath. I think for all the same reasons, I mean breath is the foundation of life.
  • Everything else stops when you're not breathing. And so, that's always been a really significant part, and I do return to the breath.
  • In fact, I did just go back to a meditation teacher who I really rely on for a lot of guidance and was asking her about focusing on the breath and how I hear a lot of instruction these days that seem to imply to me that we should always return to the breath.
  • I've found that in my own practice, I'm at a point where sometimes if I'm experiencing and aware of a difficult emotion that returning to the breath can feel like a distraction.

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