Posts tagged with ‘mindfulness’

19 jan

See Beings Not Bodies

RickHansonWhat happens when you look at someone?
The Practice:
See beings, not bodies.
Why?

When we encounter someone, usually the mind automatically slots the person into a category: man, woman, your friend Tom, the kid next door, etc. Watch this happen in your own mind as you meet or talk with a co-worker, salesclerk, or family member.

In effect, the mind summarizes and simplifies tons of details into a single thing – a human thing to be sure, but one with an umbrella label that makes it easy to know how to act. For example: “Oh, that’s my boss (or mother-in-law, or boyfriend, or traffic cop, or waiter) . . . and now I know what to do. Good.”

This labeling process is fast, efficient, and gets to the essentials. As our ancestors evolved, rapid sorting of friend or foe was very useful. For example, if you’re a mouse, as soon as you smell something in the “cat” category, that’s all you need to know: freeze or run like crazy!

On the other hand, categorizing has lots of problems. It fixes attention on surface features of the person’s body, such as age, gender, attractiveness, or role. It leads to objectifying others (e.g., “pretty woman,” “authority figure”) rather than respecting their humanity. It tricks us into thinking that a person comprised of changing complexities is a static unified entity. It’s easier to feel threatened by someone you’ve labeled as this or that. And categorizing is the start of the slippery slope toward “us” and “them,” prejudice, and discrimination.

Flip it around, too: what’s it like for you when you can tell that another person has slotted you into some category? Read more »

Posted by Dr. Rick Hanson on January 19th, 2012 in General, Relationships, Things We Love | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , , ,

16 jan

Step Into the Clouds

RickHansonJuggling bricks?
The Practice:
Step into the cloud.
Why?

I had a lightbulb moment recently: I was feeling stressed about all the stuff I had to do (you probably know the feeling). After this went on for a while, I stepped back and kind of watched my mind, and could see that I was thinking of these various tasks as things, like big rocks that were rolling down a hill toward me and which needed to be handled, lifted, moved, fended off, or broken into pebbles. As soon as I dealt with one thing-y boulder, another one was rolling toward me. Shades of Sisyphus.

Seen as brick-like entities, no wonder these tasks felt heavy, oppressive, burdensome. Yuch!

But then I realized that in fact the tasks I needed to do were more like clouds than things. Clouds are made up of lots of vaporous little bits, those bits come together for a time due to many swirling causes, and then they swirl away again. Meanwhile, the edge or boundary of a cloud blurs into other clouds or the sky itself. There is a kind of insubstantiality to clouds, and a softness, a yielding.

For example, take writing an email message: It has lots of little parts to it (the points you need to take into account, and the words and sentences), it is nested in a larger context – your relationship to the receiver, the needs that prompted the email – that (in a sense) calls it forth, and it emerges and passes away. This email, this task, links to other tasks, sort of blurs into them. Fundamentally, the email is a kind of process, an event, rather than a thing. It’s like you could put your hand through it.

When I considered my tasks in this way, I immediately felt better: relieved, relaxed. Tasks felt fluid, like streams or eddies I was stepping into and influencing or contributing to as best I could before they swirled on and became something else. Not so weighty or full of inertia; not so resistant, so controlling of me; not bearing down on me, but instead, something I was flowing into. Then I didn’t feel weary dealing with them. They became fun, lighter; there was more freedom in moving through them.

And it’s not just tasks that are clouds. Read more »

Posted by Dr. Rick Hanson on January 16th, 2012 in General, Relationships, Things We Love | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , ,

06 jan

Pet The Lizard

RickHansonDown deep, do you feel at ease?
The Practice:
Pet the lizard.
Why?

I’ve always liked lizards.

Growing up in the outskirts of Los Angeles, I played in the foothills near our home. Sometimes I’d catch a lizard and stroke its belly, so it would relax in my hands, seeming to feel at ease.

In my early 20’s, I found a lizard one chilly morning in the mountains. It was torpid and still in the cold and let me pick it up. Concerned that it might be freezing to death, I placed it on the shoulder of my turtleneck, where it clung and occasionally moved about for the rest of the day. There was a kind of wordless communication between us, in which the lizard seemed to feel I wouldn’t hurt it, and I felt it wouldn’t scratch or bite me. After a few hours, I hardly knew it was there, and sometime in the afternoon it left without me realizing it.

Now, years later, as I’ve learned more about how the brain evolved, my odd affinity for lizards has started making sense to me. To simplify a complex journey beginning about 600 million years ago, your brain has developed in three basic stages: Read more »

Posted by Dr. Rick Hanson on January 6th, 2012 in General, Health, Relationships, Things We Love | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

01 jan

Empty the Cup

RickHansonAre you full to the brim?
The Practice:
Empty the cup.
Why?

Once upon a time, a scholar came to visit a saint. After the scholar had been orating and propounding for a while, the saint proposed some tea. She slowly filled the scholar’s cup: gradually the tea rose to the very brim and began spilling over onto the table, yet she kept pouring and pouring. The scholar burst out: “Stop! You can’t add anything to something that’s already full!” The saint set down the teapot and replied, “Exactly.”

Whether it’s the blankness of a canvas to an artist, the silence between the notes in music, bare dirt for a new garden, the not-knowing openness of a scientist exploring new hypotheses, an unused shelf in a closet or cupboard, or some open time in your schedule, you need space to act effectively, dance with your partners, and have room around your emotional reactions.

Yet most of us, me included, tend to stuff as much as possible into whatever room is available – room in closets, schedules, budgets, relationships, and even the mind itself. Read more »

Posted by Dr. Rick Hanson on January 1st, 2012 in General, Health, Relationships, Things We Love | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , , , , , , ,

23 dec

Give Over to Good

RickHansonWhat is living you?
The Practice:
Give over to good.
Why?

In every moment, you and I and everyone and everything else – from quantum foam to fleeting thoughts, intimate relationships, rainforest ecosystems, and the stars themselves – are each a kind of standing wave, like the ever-changing though persistent pattern of water rising above a boulder in a river.

We are the result of multiple causes flowing through us. As Buckminster Fuller famously said, “I seem to be a verb.”

This fact is amazing, but it’s corroborated by both modern physics and deep ecology. We can get silly-cosmic about it (done this myself – not only as a college sophomore!), but the implications are very down to earth.

As unique standing waves, you and I are constructed each moment by the currents – the forces and factors, both internal and external – flowing through us. We have no choice about being lived by these currents, continually given over to them.

But we can choose to give ourselves over to the good ones. Read more »

Posted by Dr. Rick Hanson on December 23rd, 2011 in General, Health, Relationships, Things We Love | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

11 dec

Remember the Big Things

RickHansonWhat matters most to you?
The Practice:
Remember the big things.
Why?

In every life, reminders arrive about what’s really important.

I’ve recently received one myself, in a form that’s already come to countless people and will come to countless more: news of a potentially serious health problem. My semi-annual dermatology mole check turned up a localized melanoma cancer in my ear that will need to come out immediately. The prognosis is very positive – this thing is “non-invasive” – but it’s certainly an intimation of mortality. Hopefully this particular bullet will whiz by, but it’s an uncomfortably concrete message that sooner or later something will catch up with each one of us.

Personally, I am doing alright with this. It’s like there are three layers to my mind as I write here, just a few days after I got the news. The top is focused on problem-solving. Beneath that there’s a furry little animal that’s upset and wants to curl up with loved ones. The bottom feels accepting, peaceful, and grateful.

Naturally enough, after the bullet passes – maybe taking a bit of your ear with it! – you reflect on your life, both past and to come. Of course, you don’t need a health scare – which in my case is small potatoes compared to what so many people around the world must deal with – to consider what you care about most. Then you appreciate the things you’ve honored so far, and you see where you could center yourself more in what’s truly important to you.

While it’s good advice not to sweat the small stuff, we also need to nurture the large stuff. Read more »

Posted by Dr. Rick Hanson on December 11th, 2011 in Uncategorized | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , ,

27 nov

Relax, You’ve Arrived

RickHansonAre we there yet?
The Practice:
Relax, you’ve arrived.
Why?

We spend so much of our time trying to get somewhere.

Part of this comes from our biological nature. To survive, animals – including us – have to be goal-directed, leaning into the future.

It’s certainly healthy to pursue wholesome aims, like paying the rent on time, raising children well, healing old pain, or improving education.

But it’s also important to see how this focus on the future – on endless striving, on getting the next task done, on climbing the next mountain – can get confused and stressful.

It’s confused because the brain:
· Overestimates both the pleasure of future gains and the pain of future losses. (This evolved to motivate our ancient ancestors to chase carrots hard and really dodge sticks.)

· Makes the future seem like a real thing when in fact it doesn’t actually exist and never will. There is only now, forever and always.

· Overlooks or minimizes the alrightness of this moment – including the many things already resolved or accomplished – in order to keep you looking for the next threat or opportunity. (For more on how the brain makes us stressed and fearful, see Buddha’s Brain.)

Further, this pursuit of the next thing is confused because the mind tends to transfer unfulfilled needs from childhood into the present, such as to be safe, worthy, attractive, successful, or loved. Read more »

Posted by Dr. Rick Hanson on November 27th, 2011 in General, Relationships, Things We Love | 1 comment Read related posts in , , , , , ,

19 nov

Give No One Cause to Fear You

RickHansonWhat puts people at ease?
The Practice:
Give no one cause to fear you.
Why?

We evolved to be afraid.

The ancient ancestors that were casual and blithely hopeful, underestimating the risks around them – predators, loss of food, aggression from others of their kind – did not pass on their genes. But the ones that were nervous were very successful – and we are their great-grandchildren, sitting atop the food chain.

Consequently, multiple hair-trigger systems in your brain continually scan for threats. At the least whiff of danger – which these days comes mainly in the form of social hazards like indifference, criticism, rejection, or disrespect – alarm bells start ringing. See a frown across a dinner table, hear a cold tone from a supervisor, get interrupted repeatedly, receive an indifferent shrug from a partner, watch your teenager turn her back and walk away . . . and your heart starts beating faster, stress hormones course through your veins, emotions well up, thoughts race, and the machinery of fighting, fleeing, freezing, or appeasing kicks into high gear.

The same thing happens in the other direction: when you send out any signal that others find even subtly threatening, their inner iguana gets going. That makes them suffer. Plus it prompts negative reactions from them, such as defensiveness, withdrawal, counter-attacks, grudges, dislike, or enlisting their allies against you.

Thus the kindness and the practical wisdom in the traditional saying, “Give no one cause to fear you.”

You can – and should – be direct, firm, and assertive. Without needing to fear you, others should expect that if they break their agreements with you or otherwise mistreat you, there will be consequences: you reserve the right to speak up, call a spade a spade, step back in the relationship if need be, take away the privileges of a misbehaving child or the job of a dishonest employee, and so on. But this is simply clarity. Rocks are hard; you don’t need to fear rocks to take their hardness into account: I know this as an aging rock climber!

Much of the time the fear – the anxiety, apprehension, unease – we trigger in others is mild, diffuse, in the background, maybe not even consciously experienced. But studies show that people can feel threatened by stimuli they’re not actually aware of. Think of the little bits of irritation, caustic tone, edginess, superiority, pushiness, nagging, argumentativeness, eye rolls, sighs, rapid fire talk, snarkiness, demands, high-handedness, righteousness, sharp questions, or put downs that can leak out of a person – and how these can affect others. Consider how few of these are necessary, if any at all – and the mounting costs of the fears we needlessly engender in others.

Think of the benefits to you and others of them feeling safer, calmer, and more at peace around you.

How?

Assert yourself for the things that matter to you. If you are sticking up for yourself and getting your needs met, you won’t be as likely to get reactive with others.

Appreciate that the caveman/-woman brain inside the head of the person you’re talking with is automatically primed to fear you, no matter how respectful or loving you’ve been. So do little things to prevent needless fears, like starting an interaction by expressing whatever warmth, joining, and positive intentions are authentic for you. Be self-disclosing, straightforward, unguarded. Come with an open hand, weaponless.

As you can, stay calm in your body. Get revved up, and that signals others that something bad could be coming.

Slow down. Fast talk, rapid instructions or questions, and quick movements can rattle or overwhelm others. Sudden events in our ancient past were often the beginning of a potentially lethal attack.

Be careful with anger. Any whiff of anger makes others feel threatened. For example, a crowded and noisy restaurant will suddenly get quiet if an angry voice is heard, since anger within a band of primates or early humans was a major threat signal.

Consider your words and tone. For example, sometimes you’ll need to name possible consequences – but watch out, since it’s easy for others to hear a threat, veiled or explicit, and then quietly go to war with you in their mind.

Give the other person breathing room, space to talk freely, a chance to preserve his or her pride and dignity.

Be trustworthy yourself, so that others do not fear that you will let them down.

Be at peace. Know that you have done what you can to help prevent or reduce fears in others. Observe and take in the benefits to you – such as others who feel safer around you give you less cause to fear them.

* * *

Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of the bestselling Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (in 21 languages) – and Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time. Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and Affiliate of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, he’s taught at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and in meditation centers worldwide. His work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, Consumer Reports Health, and U.S. News and World Report and he has several audio programs. His blog – Just One Thing – has nearly 30,000 subscribers and suggests a simple practice each week that will bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind and heart. If you wish, you can subscribe to Just One Thing here.

If you felt moved, inspired, touched, helped, annoyed, or anything after reading this, please let us know. Our wonderful bloggers really do appreciate your comments and feedback. It’s super easy and takes a minute. Click on comments below.

Posted by Dr. Rick Hanson on November 19th, 2011 in General, Relationships, Things We Love | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , , , ,

16 nov

Stay Right When You’re Wronged

RickHansonWhat happens after you’re mistreated?
The Practice:
Stay right when you’re wronged.
Why?

It’s easy to treat people well when they treat you well. The real test is when they treat you badly.

Think of times you’ve been truly wronged, in small ways or big ones. Maybe someone stole something , turned others against you, broke an agreement, cheated on you, or spoke unfairly or abusively.

When things like these happen, I feel mad, hurt, startled, wounded, sad. Naturally it arises to want to strike back and punish, get others to agree with me, and make a case against the other person in my own mind.

These feelings and impulses are normal. But what happens if you get caught up in reactions and go overboard? (Which is different from keeping your cool, seeing the big picture, and acting wisely – which we’ll explore below.) There’s usually a release and satisfaction, and thinking you’re justified. It feels good.

For a little while.

But bad things usually follow. The other person overreacts, too, in a vicious cycle. Other people – relatives, friends, co-workers – get involved and muddy the water. You don’t look very good when you act out of upset, and others remember. It gets harder to work through the situation in a reasonable way. After the dust settles, you feel bad inside.

As the Buddha said long ago, “Getting angry with another person is like throwing hot coals with bare hands: both people get burned.” You can see much the same thing internationally. Gandhi put it so well: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

Sure, you need to clarify your position, stand up for yourself, set boundaries, speak truth to power. The art – and I’m still working on it, myself! – is to do these things without the fiery excesses that have bad consequences for you, others, and our fragile planet.

How?

Start by getting centered, which often takes just a dozen seconds or so:

  • Pause – You rarely get in trouble for what you don’t say or do. Give yourself the gift of time, even just a few seconds.
  • Have compassion for yourself – This a moment of feeling “ouch, that hurts, I wish this hadn’t happened.” A neurologically savvy trick for activating self-compassion is to first recall the feeling of being with someone who cares about you.
  • Get on your own side – This means being for yourself, not against others. It can help to remember a time when you felt strong, like doing something that was physically challenging, or sticking up for someone you loved.
  • Make a plan – Start figuring out what you’re going to do, or at least where you’ll start.

And now that you’re on firmer ground, here are some practical suggestions; use the ones you like:

  • Clarify the facts – What actually happened?
  • Rate the bad event accurately – On a 0 – 10 awfulness scale (a dirty look is a 1 and nuclear war is a 10), how bad was it, really? If the event is a 3 on the awfulness scale, why have emotional reactions that are a 5 (or 9!) on the 0 – 10 upset scale?
  • See the big picture – Recognize the OK aspects of the situation mixed up with the bad ones. Put the situation in the larger context of unrelated good things happening for you, and your lifetime altogether. See the biggest picture of all: how your experiences are continually changing and it’s not worth getting all caught up in them.
  • Reflect about the other person – Consider the “10,000 causes” upstream that led him or her to do whatever happened. Be careful about assuming it was intentional; much of the time you’re just a bit player in other people’s drama. Try to have compassion for them, which will make you feel better. If applicable, take responsibility for your own part in the matter (but don’t blame yourself unfairly). You can have compassion and forgiveness for others while still considering their actions to be morally wrong.
  • Do what you can, concretely – As possible, protect yourself from people who wrong you; shrink the relationship to the size that is safe. Get support; it’s important for others to “bear witness” when you’ve been mistreated. Build up your resources. Get good advice – from a friend, therapist, lawyer, or even the police. As appropriate, pursue justice.
  • Act with unilateral virtue – Live by your code even if others do not. This will make you feel good, lead others to respect you, and create the best chance that the person who wronged you will treat you better in the future.
  • Say what needs to be said – There is a good formula from the field of “nonviolent communication”: “When X happens (stated objectively; not “when you are a jerk”), I feel Y (emotions; not “I fell you are an idiot”), because I need Z (deep needs like: “to be safe, respected, emotionally close to others, autonomous and not bossed around”).

Then, if it would be useful, you can make a request for the future. Some examples: “If I bother you, could you talk with me directly?” “Could you not swear at me?” “Could you treat your agreements with me and your children as seriously as you do those at work?”

  • Move on – For your own sake, start releasing your angry or hurt thoughts and feelings. Stop your mind from obsessing about the past, and focus on the present and future. Turn toward what is going well, what you’re grateful for. Do things that feel pleasurable.

In the garden of your life, you have to pull some weeds, sure, but mainly focus on planting flowers.

  • Be at peace – All you can really do is what you can do. Others are going to do whatever they do, and realistically, sometimes it won’t be that great. Many people disappoint: they’ve got a million things swirling around in their head, life’s been tough, there were issues in their childhood, their ethics are fuzzy, their thinking is clouded, etc. It’s the real world, and cannot be perfected.

You have to find peace in your heart, not out there in the world. A peace that comes from seeing clearly, from building up and focusing on good things in your own garden, and from letting go.

* * *

Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of the bestselling Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (in 21 languages) – and Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time. Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and Affiliate of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, he’s taught at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and in meditation centers worldwide. His work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, Consumer Reports Health, and U.S. News and World Report and he has several audio programs. His blog – Just One Thing – has nearly 30,000 subscribers and suggests a simple practice each week that will bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind and heart. If you wish, you can subscribe to Just One Thing here.

If you felt moved, inspired, touched, helped, annoyed, or anything after reading this, please let us know. Our wonderful bloggers really do appreciate your comments and feedback. It’s super easy and takes a minute. Click on comments below.

Posted by Dr. Rick Hanson on November 16th, 2011 in General, Relationships, Things We Love | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , ,

12 may

Put No One Out of Your Heart

RickHansonWhat is an open heart?
The Practice
Put no one out of your heart.
Why?

We all know people who are, ah, . . . challenging. It could be a critical parent, a bossy supervisor, a relative who has you walking on eggshells, a nice but flaky friend, a co-worker who just doesn’t like you, a partner who won’t keep his or her agreements, or a politician you dislike. Right now I’m thinking of a neighbor who refused to pay his share of a fence between us.

As Jean-Paul Sartre put it: “Hell is other people.”

Sure, that’s overstated. But still, most of a person’s hurts, disappointments, and irritations typically arise in reactions to other people.

Ironically, in order for good relationships to be so nurturing to us as human beings – who have evolved to be the most intimately relational animals on the planet – you must be so linked to others that some of them can really rattle you!

So what can you do?

Let’s suppose you’ve tried to make things better – such as taking the high road yourself and perhaps also trying to talk things out, pin down reasonable agreements, set boundaries, etc. – but the results have been partial or nonexistent.

At this point, it’s natural to close off to the other person, often accompanied by feelings of apprehension, resentment, or disdain. While the brain definitely evolved to care about “us,” it also evolved to separate from, fear, exploit, and attack “them” – and those ancient, neural mechanisms can quickly grab hold of you.

But what are the results? Closing off doesn’t feel good. Read more »

Posted by Dr. Rick Hanson on May 12th, 2011 in Family, General, Relationships, Things We Love | No comments Read related posts in , , , , , , , , , , , ,