Sustaining Happiness Through Mindful Living: Barry Margerum (Transcript)

Barry Margerum at TEDxSantaClaraUniversity

Full text of Barry Margerum’s talk: Sustaining Happiness Through Mindful Living at TEDxSantaClaraUniversity conference.

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Barry Margerum:

Good evening. What I like to do is have a start off taking couple of deep breaths together.


Inhale, hold, and exhale.

Inhale, hold and exhale.

It’s a great way to prepare for any important meeting, activity or event. Actually should relax you and get you more focused. And it’s certainly going to help me in this presentation.

So how am I doing so far?

Do you like me? What category would you put me in? Friend, foe, neutral or possible mate.

Now before you, while you’re pondering that I should say because I have trouble with this some time. I’m off the market. Okay. Not available. So if you had that uptake on me, ladies or gentlemen, sorry about that.

The reason I asked that question is because we make value judgments about people we don’t even know in the first few seconds we see them. We all do it, we do it subconsciously. We’re wired that way. We’re actually looking for threats.

Our ancestors many years ago weren’t just looking for the saber-toothed tigers. They were worried about who they encountered and whether they would be friend or foe. That’s how they survived. And we carry that with us today.

Joseph LeDoux from New York University says, we’re not… there’s no evidence that our brains are hard-wired for fear. What he does say is that we have the circuitry that allows us to detect and respond in pre-programmed ways that’s modifiable.

So what I’d like to talk about tonight is mindfulness and meditation. So that you can better modify and regulate your pre-programs to deal with this global digital world in which we find ourselves.

The benefit of that is when you get a bad email, you don’t have the same reaction as if you saw a saber-toothed tiger. And it’s bigger than that. It is not just for those events like that, but it’s for devastating events in your lifetime.

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How do you go about and make sure that you can manage those properly?

For me, I had a divorce and what I found is through mindfulness and meditation, I was better able to make better choices, make better decisions, and found way to happiness and peacefulness faster than I would have otherwise. And that’s what we’re going to talk about tonight.

I’ve been a student of this for some number of years now. And I became very annoying to my friends because once I learned this, I kept telling him that all the time and I decided that wasn’t the right forum. So I’m glad I have an opportunity to speak with you tonight about it.

The best way to understand mindfulness is to understand the circuitry of the brain. There’s three parts. The first part is the brain stem. It’s the oldest part. It’s referred to as reptilian brain 400 million years ago. It does basic things. It regulates the body and it also allows or initiates the fight, flight and fear or freeze response that you see in reptiles.

The next area is the limbic system found in mammals, referenced many times as the emotional part of the brain. This is the part that records every memory of behavior that created both bad and good experiences in your lifetime. It generates our emotions.

These two together, the brainstem and the limbic system, are what causes many of our automatic behaviors and impulses that come from trained reactions and instincts from that area of the brain.

The prefrontal cortex is the most evolved. It’s the most evolved in humans and it’s the executive function of the brain. And what it does is have the ability to pause before we take impulsive behavior or actions. It has the ability to calm and regulate the limbic and brainstem areas of the brain.

So you’re driving your car and you’re supposed to be merging and the guy or gal cuts in front of you. And if you engage your prefrontal cortex, you rationalize yourself: Well, he must be in such a big hurry that he cut me off.

You don’t do anything. If you don’t engage your prefrontal cortex, you honk your horn, you get all worked up, you flip them off and maybe even go into road rage, to be determined.

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So mindfulness awareness practices according to Daniel Siegel, is the ability to create a state of activation that allows you to harness the power of the prefrontal cortex in that moment.

And so that’s very important to be able to do that. It’s able to help you better manage your thoughts and your emotions through meditation practices.

If you look at long-term meditators, what you find out is they have less emotional reactivity than the rest of us. They don’t get worked up like we do.

The brainstem and limbic system, prefrontal cortex is what we’re going to be talking about tonight and we’re going to try to deal with.

What you’ll find is that once you learn how to use these things; that you’re better able to be reflective versus reflexive. You can take stock in that situation and do the right thing as opposed to just not.

Our best leaders around the world are people who have this skill. Some people call it emotional intelligence, but it’s the ability to manage these things, allows you to lead people, allows you to deal with difficult situations, difficult conversations.

I think that today we find that we need to employ these things even more so than before because of the world in which we live in.

Does this look familiar to anybody? Anybody here in school just got past midterms. Whether you’re a parent, whether you’re a worker, whether you’re a student, the days have gotten longer and more intense.

We get more email, more notification alerts, messages, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat posts than ever before. If you want, you can operate 24/7, 365. Unfortunately, many people do and worse are the people that expect you to behave that way.

60 minutes had a series on it saying that in fact that the smartphone and the applications like Facebook had become addictive and you see people using them all the time. I’m sure you can relate to that. You can see people walking down the street and almost hitting stop street signs because they’re focused on their phone.

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I almost did it, this week unfortunately. And I’m supposed to be mindful.

You know, worse is the fact that we also, in addition to those externalities, all this goes on in our lives in general.

We have the fact that didn’t get into fraternity or sorority that you wanted to get into, get that job, breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriend. I mean it’s tough being human. It’s very tough being human.

And I like to describe it as that our lives are continuous successions, ups and downs, twists and turns of agreeable and disagreeable situations.

The US Army War College has a term they call VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. They describe it for war time situations because you don’t know what’s going to happen next. That’s what our lives are like.

2017 is a pretty good example of that. And I’m not talking about the Cubs winning the World Series. So the problem is that we think the world revolves around us. We think the road should be straight and flat. We think it should be simple, certain, predictable. That’s (like): ‘Hey, I’m the star of the movie here’. Right?

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