Caltech’s Meditation Mob Begins Its 10th Year

Way back in October of 2014, I rolled the dice and decided to see if there was any interest on campus in practicing mindfulness meditation in a group setting. Within a few weeks, we had a steady crowd coming to the Winnett Student Center, and I was delighted that the gamble had paid off. We dubbed ourselves the Meditation Mob, and last month we began our 10th consecutive year. This year is especially exciting because we’re finally returning to in-person meetings – and now that we’re back in person, I wanted to kickstart our membership again. I’m grateful to the Tech for the opportunity to tell you about what we do, and to invite you to come join us.

If you’re not familiar with mindfulness meditation, it looks deceptively simple: Keep your attention on whatever you’re doing, and practice bringing some acceptance and openness to whatever shows up. Sounds easy, right? We probably think that we do this anyway - but the research on attention tells a different story. Would you believe that we seem to give our full attention to what we’re doing only about half the time? It’s not that that’s automatically bad or wrong, but it turns out that mind-wandering seems to correlate with stress, anxiety, and negative emotional states. I seem to be an expert into drifting into mental arguments with someone who isn’t even there - I get worked up and annoyed, and when I finally come back to my senses, I suddenly realize that I’ve been standing in the shower for 20 minutes and can’t remember if I’ve even shampooed yet or not.

Our minds wander like this all the time; it can feel like living on autopilot. When we’re not showing up for our lives, we miss out on the color, texture, and richness that’s been right in front of us all along. Showing up on purpose allows us to live more fully, to appreciate what’s good, and to look squarely at the things that aren’t so good.

But if this is so good for us, why don’t we do it more often? This is where the our weekly group comes in: We treat present-time awareness as a skill that can be taught and practiced, and we spend time each week practicing these skills. This skills-based focus makes our group appropriate for anyone who’s interested. And just to be clear, even though some forms of meditation have a spiritual component, we’re committed to teaching these skills from a secular perspective – everyone is welcome.

Present-time awareness makes a great home base to build other skills upon. In fact, we teach and practice four building blocks of emotional well-being as identified by researchers such as Richard Davidson from the Center for Healthy Minds.

  1. Resilience / rebounding from negative emotions

  2. Positive outlook

  3. Attention

  4. Caring for others

Again, these aren’t inborn personality traits or abstract aspirations; they’re skills that can be learned and practiced, and we teach them as such. I want to say a little bit more about each of these skills and how we approach them.

Resilience / rebounding from negative emotions

• We regularly practice the skill of equanimity - that is, bringing a sense of acceptance to experiences that we can’t immediately change. You can’t make yourself learn to play the piano overnight; you’ll practice when you can, and at the same time you have to be ok with being where you are.

• We practice mindful awareness of our emotional states, which shows us that emotions are transient, and that there are multiple ways of engaging with emotions. We also practice not judging ourselves for having any particular emotion; our feelings don’t define us.

• We regularly practice compassion for ourselves and others so we don’t compound life’s problems with harsh judgments that don’t help.

Positive outlook

• We regularly practice the skill of lovingkindness for ourselves and others. We practice attitudes of extending well-being to ourselves and others on the basis of our common humanity, without engaging in moral judgments that can leave us feeling that well-being must first be earned or deserved.

• We also practice sympathetic joy - the skill of being happy for others’ successes without comparing ourselves to others. This gives us an alternative to feelings of enviousness or jealousy.


• Just as I mentioned above, every other week we practice the skill of mindful awareness - that is, paying attention nonjudgmentally to our experience in the present moment, and gently guiding our attention back when it strays. Staying aware of and attuned to our moment-by-moment experience helps us focus on the texture and color that’s already there instead of drifting through our day.

Caring for others

• Our loving kindness practice regularly includes other people - even (especially even) people whom we may find challenging or difficult. This helps us learn to respond to others on the basis of common humanity instead of deciding if someone earns or deserves our compassion and goodwill.

What to Expect

I use the term concentration practices to refer to the skills that teach us to pay attention, and I use the term heart practices to refer to the attitudes that we strive to bring to our experience.

What does this look like on a given day? It depends on which week of the month it is:

1st Tuesday of the month: This will be a concentration practice to build mindful awareness, usually focused on one specific thing such as feeling our breath in our body, hearing sounds around us, etc.

2nd Tuesday of the month: This will be one of the heart practices - lovingkindness, compassion, equanimity, or sympathetic joy.

3rd Tuesday of the month: This will be a broader concentration practice focused on all of our senses: What we can feel, see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and also our emotions and thoughts.

4th Tuesday of the month: This will again be one of the heart practices, almost always a different one than we practiced during the 2nd Tuesday.

5th Tuesday of the month: Fifth Tuesdays are rare, so when they show up we do something fun or something off the beaten path that we haven’t done in a while. We’ve gone outside for a mindful walk, listened to music together, and even had some food together.

Our community is the container that makes all of this possible. Whether it’s just 2 people or a dozen, we always start with building connections with one another. Being part of a group with shared ideals is a lovely way to be less alone and more connected, and it makes it even easier to try out the skills involved with making ourselves and the world a little bit better.

We’d really love for you to be part of our group. We meet every Tuesday from 12:00 – 12:50 in Club Room 2 in the basement of Hameetman Center. We’ll always finish in time for you to get where you need to go next. If you can’t join us in person, you’re welcome to join us via Zoom; the QR code attached to this article will have the address, as well as instructions on signing up for our weekly reminder e-mail list. And if you can’t make it on Tuesdays at noon, the QR code also points to our archive of audio and video recordings that you can listen to on your own schedule. We’re looking forward to seeing you!