Inspiration For Mind Program – Why Are You Doing This Crazy Thing?

A lot of people are curious about “how, why, and where” I got the inspiration for the Mind workshops we did this year. Here is my latest version of that story.

Inspiration – MPPGA Mind 2018

I met with Moura Quayle, UBC Public Policy Director,  in June 2018 to discuss how my new experiment with Meditation, Mindfulness, and Career Exploration was going.  I’d had similar discussions with her about “Experiential Entrepreneurship” and “Design Thinking” in the past.  We talked about the journey from the fall of 2017 to now.  The idea in the fall of 2017, the prototype at Quest University in February 2018, and the full workshop in June 2018 at UBC. At the end of that meeting she asked, “… I know you’re busy … and can you do this for our students?”

Where This All Started – The Fall of 2017 – and earlier.

Here is the story that I told.  The inspiration for this workshop comes from Engineering Physics (Fizz) students request for support in “Mental Health”. At the 2017 Fizz Board of Studies meeting student representatives asked for Mental Health support. I read the minutes and said to myself, “I should do something about that. I’ll book a meeting with Andre (Engineering Physics Director) right now.”

I’ve been mentoring entrepreneurs at UBC for over a decade and through that activity I’ve had many of these “Mental Health” requests. I find that students want to learn about ways to support their mental health and achieve high performance in their work. I have experience in this area honed from my journey with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome since 2001 and my intense startup journeys with PMC-Sierra and Packet Engines.

My first experience with mindfulness and meditation was via the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programs developed by Dr John Kabatt Zin. I found these practices worked for me. I have explored many of the sources and inspirations of Kabat-Zinn’s scientific work to provide a scientific basis for mindfulness and meditation. Being a “Fizzer” I wanted to get to “first principles” and that is how I met a “lay monk/nun” named Bonni Ross.  That said, I’m not going get into theory of meditation and mindfulness.  We’re just going to try it out, like a laboratory course, we are going to “Sit, Circle, and Explore”.

A Special Thank You To Chade-Meng Tan For His Inspiration

When talking about inspiration I have to mention Chade-Meng Tan. I’ve never met him and yet when I read his blog, and later books, I felt like he’s been in the “cube” next to me forever.  He’s a crazy and silly engineer like the rest of us. He’s different because he’s an early-Google-guy and wants us all to meditate.

I’d like to “Thank” Chade-Meng Tan for his audaciousness in developing the “Search Inside Yourself”  class at Google in the 2000s and publishing his book in 2012. Without his coming forward and destigmatizing Mindfulness and Meditation in the engineering community, I couldn’t have done this.  Here is his “Life Story: Three Easy Steps to World Peace from his old-blog  Mengstupiditis.  Yes, he is a crazy, silly, super-smart guy.

“Three Easy Steps to World Peace” by Chade-Meng Tan
1. Start with me, be the change I want to see in the world.
2. Make meditation a field of science, just like medicine.
3. Align meditation with real life, make it useful and relevant for real people.

Why Me?

You may ask why I’m offering a meditation workshop for Engineering Physics (Fizz) students.

My answer is that I have lived this topic for over a decade and I’m in the Fizz and UBC tribe.  I can get this conversation started.

I started meditating in the early 2000’s for health reasons.  In 2005, I had the good fortune of meeting meditation genius Bonni Ross and began a deep study of meditation.  She got me started in all the components of this program.  Thank You Bonni.

I came across Chade-Meng Tan’s blog in the late-2000s and became more open about my journey with meditation and mindfulness.

Also, I’ve spent a lot of time rationalizing my meditation experience with psychology.  A big Thank You to Dr Holly Stepaniuk and Dr Lesley Joy for helping me decode the meditative experience.

Also, I’ve a long history with UBC.  I’m a Fizz ’89, just like program director Dr Andre Marziali.  I’m on the Fizz Board of Studies.  I’m part of the donor team that created the PMC-Sierra Professorship in Fizz.  I taught entrepreneurship in the UBC Sauder MBA program 2008-2012.  A big Thank You to John Ries for getting that going. I taught the first two Lean Launch Pads (LLPs) with e@UBC in 2012 and 2013. A big Thank You to Carol Leacy and Anuj Singhal for that.  I volunteered in a few of UBC Sauder’s “Design Thinking” classes. Thank You Moura Quayle for that.  I taught LLPs in the Genomics Entrepreneurship program.  A big Thank You to Andrea Lloyd for that.  In 2014 I went to Kenya with UBC Sauder Social Entrepreneurship.  A big Thank You to Frances Chandler for that.  Since 2015 I’ve been a Entrepreneurship Advisor at UBC Sauder.  A big Thank You to Paul Cubbon for that.

This essay on workplace burnout “I Forget What Eight Was For” provides my motivation for developing the skills in this workshop.

Finally, this Pecha Kucha video is a good introduction to me in the role of Entrepreneurship Advisor and Explorer.

MPPGA Mind 2018

We travelled out to the UBC Liu Institute for three sessions of “Sit, Circle, and Explore” in November. We were hosted by UBC’s Masters Program for Public Policy and Global Affairs (MPPGA). We called it “MPPGA Mind 2018”.

We were given a fabulous location on the main floor of the Liu Institute with forest surrounding us on all sides. The Nitobe Japanese garden next door and Museum of Anthropology across the street.

We had room for a sitting circle and tables for sketching.
I started the class, then we formed a circle for the sit & circle.


Slides & Scripts

In these classes I chose to develop the class’s script in slide form. But there were very few slides shown during the class. One of our learnings is that the spoken word and handouts are best. The “slide script” is good for developing timing, follow-up and sharing after class.

The main changes from previous sessions were the “Explore” sections.  In each “Explore” we delivered the instruction in snippets, like a guided meditation.  Then we did small group discussions, and then had an individual speak for each small group to the whole room.  Also, in session #2 I added in “Warrior for the Human Spirit” meditation instruction “Touch & Let Go” and 5 slogans.

The “Touch & Let Go” is a meditation instruction for handling thoughts.  When one notices that they have lost their focus and are off in a thought, then smile, then reach out & gently touch the thought (with one’s mind), and then let go. The approach is to develop gentleness towards the thought and oneself.  It’s consistent with the “Warrior” theme of meeting everything with “Gentleness, Decency, and Bravery”.

The 5 slogans I chose were:
• First, be friendly to yourself,
• Don’t fix, don’t avoid, just be present,
• Come back again and again,
• Maintain your sense of humour, and
• Is it kind?



Also … there is more info here

“Lighten Up and Relax” — When Things Fall Apart — Afterword (20th Anniversary Edition)

The Afterword to the 20th Anniversary edition of Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart” has many beautiful phrases to quote.

My favorite quote synthesizes the whole book into a “stance” that we can aspire to.  I’ve been working hard on the impossible combination of “Welcome groundlessness” AND “Lighten up and relax”. 🙂

“Look at your mind. Be curious. Welcome groundlessness. Lighten up and relax. Offer chaos a cup of tea. Let go of ‘us and them.’ Don’t turn away. Everything you do and think affects everyone else on the planet. Let the pain of the world touch you and cause your compassion to blossom. And never give up on yourself.”

This next quote is very practical.  Something crazy and unreasonable happens everyday and I have to remember to not turn away.  I have to look, take it in, and work with it.

“Our world, no matter how crazy and unreasonable it gets, will become our greatest teacher and ally.”

This quote needs no explanation.  Heart ❤

“We can’t just erase everything that has led up to this and make things better all at once.”

Fizz Mind 2018 – The Slideware

All of the Fizz Mind 2018 “slideware” is available on my slideshare account.

Day by Day

All Slides — I also included a version with all the slides and brief notes.

Tools for the Post-Truth World

Here are 5 books that provide tools for navigating the “Post-Truth” world.

Each book was uncomfortable to read. They provide examples that force me to “open my eyes” and move away from “willful blindness”. They describe biases and errors my mind makes, and then how others are attempting to manipulate me by attacking my biases and faulty perception.

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The Books

“Post Truth” — by Lee McIntyre

“Who Do We Choose To Be” — by Margaret Wheatley

“Rebalancing Society” — by Henry Mintzberg

“Win Bigly” — by Scott Adams

“Skin in the Game” — by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

I learned a lot from Lee McIntyre’s recent history of “the press”, and especially how the “Prestige Press” operates. I was surprised to learn that the “Prestige Press” uses a “two-sides to the story” approach to provide “balance”, and that they do this even when there is only one side. For example, climate change gets “two-sided” coverage even though there is very little scientific support against it.  The “two-sided-ness” makes it appear to readers that there is doubt.  The debate is “manufactured” and the attempt at “balance” produces “imbalance”.  I also learned that many lobby groups are trying to recreate the success of the “Tobacco Lobby”,  which fought for a “two-sided” discussion, and thus delayed action on “Tobacco” for decades. My synthesis is that it is very difficult to get “all the information”, and that historically we’ve never really had it.

Scott Adams “Win Bigly” is absolutely terrifying, because he does a great job discussing how good Trump is at persuasion. I was sad, for many weeks, after reading this book. It’s that convincing.

Margaret (Meg) Wheatley and Henry Mintzberg are great reads because they provide me with something to do. She says that the world needs “Warriors for the Human Spirit”, and Henry Mintzberg says that we should get out to support our “Plural Sector”.

I summarize Meg Wheatley’s “Warrior for the Human Spirit” action plan as 1) learn how to meditate, so that I can strengthen mind and to begin to sort through all this manipulation and 2) Stand up, be a good person, don’t succumb to the post-truth mentality, and help others with this disorienting time.

In Henry Mintzberg’s book he talks about the loss of balance between Business, Government, and Plural sectors of our society. He defines the “Plural Sector” for us in the hope that we’ll work hard to restore balance. Sadly, he doesn’t hold out much hope for us doing this quickly. Here is his definition of the “Plural Sector”

“Consider all those associations that are neither public nor private—owned neither by the state nor by private investors—such as foundations, places of worship, unions, cooperatives, Greenpeace, the Red Cross, and many renowned universities and hospitals. — page x

Finally, Nassim Taleb is always worth reading. He sees the world differently and can back up his views. He is important and must be taken seriously, no matter how difficult his views are to stomach.

More – Defining Post-Truth

Lee McIntyre provides a definition of Post-Truth that sends shivers down my spine

“Contention that feelings are more accurate than facts, for the purpose of the political subordination of reality.” page 174 of “Post-Truth”

Wow! Half Way Through Fizz Mind 2018

Wow! We’re halfway through Fizz Mind 2018. That’s 3 Fridays of meditation class, and 3 to go.

It’s a big group, around 60+ people. We’ve got the UBC Fizz – Year 2 Cohort, 3 Professors, and 5 volunteers.

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Best Moment So Far

I loved the eyes, and body-language on day 1. At the beginning of the session the group was all loose, and cool, with learning about mindfulness. Then I got up, told them that this class was about experiencing mindfulness, and that our first meditation would be starting now. There was — mild shock <smile> ❤

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What Are We Really Doing?

The sessions have 3 sections – Sit, Circle, and Explore.

In the Sit section we meditate. On day 1 we learn about: the Structure of a meditation, Aspiration, Posture, Technique, and Review. Then we do a couple 1 minute meditations and a big 3 minute meditation. I love how long that first 3 minute meditation feels. It’s a big deal! On day 2 and 3 we increase the time to 12 minutes. It’s a guided meditation and a few minutes of silence. No one complains that it’s too long.

In the Circle section we do a technical review of the meditation. In particular we’re interested in three things: our ability to focus on the breath, our ability to be mindful of our process (that is noticing when we lose focus on the breath and bringing our focus back to the breath), and how we feel in our body. Each student gets 30 seconds to a minute and we go clockwise in the circle once or twice. In this way we support each other in collecting and sharing “meditation data”. It allows us to improve our technique, set expectations for experience, and feel comfort in our similar responses. Note, that we have experienced meditators who have volunteered to lead the sit and circle sections. We are 4 groups of ~15 people each. Thank You John, Noreen, Ross, and Katie.

In the Explore section we do career planning exercises. For Day 1 and Day 2 the Sit and Circle dominated the hour. In day 3 we did a quick mind mapping exercise called the Work Life Manifesto and had a group chat.

In the next three sessions the meditation will shift to the practice of “Open Awareness”, add a few more review points, and we will do a couple 5 Year Planning exercises from “Desiging Your Life” and “Iain’s own design/hack”.

Creating the Container — The weirdest, and/or most uncomfortable, thing we do is reading a statement at the beginning of each class wishing all people to be “Well and Happy”. I do this because I want to set the tone for everyone that this work is a big deal and that we are trying to be in a perfect world for this hour. We want to create space so that we can relax and regroup. To support that we need to say something strongly memorable, and something that we can’t argue with.  So … we practice doing a very memorable thing — that is wishing everyone to be well and happy — for 6 weeks. It feels great to do this.

The Reading Stack

The core practices in the workshop are supported by the following books: “Mindfulness in Plain English” (Sit), “The Way of Council” (Circle), and “Designing Your Life” (Explore). More detail can be found in “The Breath of Awakening” (advanced meditation technique), and “Joyful Wisdom” (Open Awareness).

Inspiration for maintaining a regular meditation practice can be found in the following books “The Art of Communicating”, “Self Reg”, “Joy on Demand”, and “Search Inside Yourself”.


The Quest University connection.  It’s very cool that two of our volunteers, Ross and Katie, participated in the February workshop in Squamish.

I wrote in detail about the Q Mind and Fizz Mind project here

One More Thing

A big Thank You to Andre Marziali for supporting this class/experiment.

A big Thank You to Bonni Ross for her support and guidance in developing the content of this class.

Wow! We Found A Hummingbird Nest

Bodi and I found new friends in Hay Park this year.

Over the course of a few weeks, I photographed a hummingbird and then it’s babies. 

<heart> ❤


# The Hummingbird
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# Babies – Two Beaks Together

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# Babies – Two Beaks Apart

IMG 5427 apart

# It’s Tiny — the hummingbird is on a branch a little left of the nest.
(nest is ~2 inches in diameter ) 

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