Dr. Ellen Langer is a delightfully rebellious lateral thinker. A prodigiously productive expressive soul. She has studied everyday mindfulness for decades. Not in the Buddhist way. With her own singular vision of what a mindful life looks like.
She’s not much of an enthusiast of meditation. She says that she can’t sit still for 20 minutes and neither can most people she knows. Instead she researches how our mindless acceptance of conventional thinking holds us back from our potential.
She was the first woman to be tenured at Harvard in psychology in the early 1980s. One of her most famous studies showed that when elderly residents in nursing homes were able to have some control over their decisions — even as simple as when to water their plants — they lived 18 months longer than their decision-free peers.
Perspective is Everything
Another famous experiment is called the “counterclockwise” study. She housed elderly men for a week at a retreat that was a time warp. It was created to be exactly the same as it had been 20 years previously. They discussed the events of the past as if they had happened that day. They were expected to perform all the physical self-care they had been able to at that time. Their blood pressure dropped and their hearing and eyesight got better. This study gained even more cachet when Jennifer Aniston optioned it to turn it into a movie.
Where Ellen agrees with other mindful practitioners like Jon Kabat-Zinn is about being present to circumstances and responding mindfully to what’s going on. She calls it the “simple act of noticing new things”. What she has learned time and time again from her studies is that there are no “rules” — no one way to do anything. The way to do things is to notice and respond with your best efforts. The amazing health benefits her study participants gained were because they were able to use their wisdom to have some control over their environments.
She’s a wonderful storyteller who creates some pithy turns of phrase. Some of my favorites are:
- When you’re mindful, mistakes become friends.
- Is this a tragedy or an inconvenience?
- Life only consists of moments. When we make the moment matter our life matters.
- Chaos is a perception.
- Most of what you’re reacting to isn’t what’s happening, you’re reacting to your views.
- Observation is a way of being.
What can Ellen teach us about our expressive soul?
Share our singular perspective with the world. Generate ideas constantly. Question, question, question conventional thinking.
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Posted by Deirdre Walsh