Four insights from 250 days of MIT@2:50 — ten-minute daily reflection

staples on wall

Early in March 2020, the edginess began. This was just before the closures and disruptions in the U.S. Tension and uncertainty were rising among MIT colleagues and the network at large. Inspired by endurance performance artists, and the psychology of repetition training, on the 12th of March, I improvised the first of an indefinite number of ten-minuted daily quiet reflections. At that moment I made a commitment to hold the event every day at 2:50 pm eastern time. What I did not know then, is that 250 days later, we’d still be meeting. Here are a few insights standing out so far.

Commitment, regularity, and simplicity open the door to a mindfulness practice

Tehching Hsieh’s Time Clock Piece and R.B. Fuller’s what one man can do, both inspired @2:50, even if only as a wan shadow of their deep dedications. Hosting ten minutes of quiet time each day was one thing that I could do to face the growing sense of unease I felt rising around me. Colleagues at MIT were the first participants and supporters. Without their encouragement, @2:50 may never have happened. From the beginning…I became We. It was everyone’s commitment that soon made the daily effort…effortless.

Early participants said that because it was simple, approachable, and consistent they could participate freely with low risk. There was no pressure to show up or not, we’d all be there again the next day at 2:50 pm. More than one colleague told me they had never before been able to sit quietly for ten minutes solid. Serving a daily window that would not change time or location from day to day, and was always a click away, created an easy anchor in a crazy time. Another participant wrote, “This consistent routine marks a ‘before’, ‘during’, and ‘after’ in my day, providing structure, camaraderie, relaxation, focus, and renewal.”

With no scheduling decision to make, a simple one-click joining process, and a small but regular commitment, we were able to keep showing up day after day. This opened up a regular mindfulness practice for all of us.

Having no end in sight meets the pandemic (and ongoing disruptions) on their own terms

Not establishing an end date to the series may serve as an antidote to the uncertainty caused by the disruptions that 2020 is delivering to the world. When there’s no end in sight, we rely on open-ended routines to make sense of the world. When we brush our teeth, make meals, or do laundry, it helps ground us to our realities. Refugees will often hold on to the keys of their former homes for years, even if their houses are gone or they may never return to them. Holding an object or a practice up against an uncertain future appears to help ease that future into being, day by day.

In looking back on 250 days of regular meetings, it’s possible that having no end date in sight is offering a sense of buoyancy. The same lightness we initiate in an uncertain world when we commit to things like getting married, giving birth, or surrendering when our loved ones pass away. We just hold our heads up. We take a deep breath and just do it, maybe even to spite the uncertainty.

The pandemic and social unrest that it appears to promote, merit new individual approaches to being resilient, to dealing with it. By keeping the series open-ended, we all agree in our own way, “Come what may, we’re going to keep showing up, no matter what.” Doing so meets unrest head-on in a “fight fire with fire” approach. It’s our own small, networked, viral response to meet new uncertainty on its terms.

Making mindfulness together makes a quantum connection

One thing endurance art, diet plans, and meditative practices may have in common are the acts of determination required to carry them out. When RuPaul sang, “You better work”, she was not kidding. It’s the work itself and the determination to carry it out, that appear to align things to support our objectives. But you have to do the work. Perhaps because of the timing or the necessity, or perhaps because of our collective action, MIT@2:50 has been shared widely across the institute and abroad. It appears to inspire a desire to share, making a connection. On the seventh day, there were hundreds of participants and I was upgrading the zoom account.

My boss and his wife joined daily for a long time, with him claiming, “If it keeps you happy and productive, then it’s worth it,” even while the reflection period was squarely within working hours. As if automatically, schedules opened to allow for these ten minutes each day. People were stepping forward, joining, returning, and sharing with their friends and colleagues. The invitation quickly spread beyond MIT. We began to be joined by participants and viewers from all over the world. For some, it would be early morning, and others, late at night. Many days we have representatives from every continent. The @2:50 experience was invited to other large group meetings both inside and outside MIT.

While I can’t claim to understand anything about quantum entanglement, I get the sense that it’s about consciousness influencing consciousness even at a distance. It feels like there is some sort of connection happening among all of us who have never met in person. Being willing to ‘do the work’ together, to show up, might be all that’s needed to engage each other on a deeper level.

The group determines the outcome and we’re forced to be unattached.

The group now only exists because of the group itself. Had it been up to me alone, these meetings might have completed after a handful of weeks or when our meeting population dipped at times below a certain number of participants. But now, all these people in rotating participation have shown up day after day, or maybe just once in a while, but we’ve just continued to show up. Something in the commitment or the connection has spoken to a bunch of us. So, it’s time to keep going. Even as disruptions shift, situations change. Change still remains constant. And it turns out, there’s nothing like a few minutes a day of quiet reflection to have a closer look at change and re-examine where we stand in relation to it.

As of the 250th day, it’s humbling and pleasing to be part of this experience. In the beginning, when many of us were confined to our homes, we had impromptu discussions after the ten minutes of quiet. As time went on we shared poetry or music, performance, or costume. For Halloween in the U.S., everyone dressed up or created a daring background. For the weekend of the 250th day, we’ve been celebrating with a plant show and tell, a formal day, and a bake-off. All these activities have grown organically out of the suggestions of the group. Looking forward to the coming days to see how MIT@2:50 evolves. Grateful for the participation of every person who’s ever joined, for keeping the journey evolving, and for helping to surface these insights among many others.