Mar 04, 2013
As the most social and loving species on the planet, we have the wonderful ability and inclination to connect with others, be empathic, cooperate, care, and love. On the other hand, we also have the capacity and inclination to be fearfully aggressive toward any individual or group we regard as “them.” (In my book – Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom – I develop this idea further, including how to stimulate and strengthen the neural circuits of self-control, empathy, and compassion.)
To tame the wolf of hate, it’s important to get a handle on “ill will” – irritated, resentful, and angry feelings and intentions toward others. While it may …
Feb 06, 2013
Lately, I’ve been wondering what would be on my personal list of top five practices (all tied for first place). You might ask yourself the same question, knowing that you can cluster related practices under a single umbrella, your list may differ from mine, and your practices may change over time.
In these posts, so far I’ve written about two of my top practices:
- Meditate – Mindfulness, training attention, contemplation, concentration, absorption, non-ordinary consciousness, liberating insight
- Take in the good (in three chapters excerpted from my book, Just One Thing) – Recognize the brain’s negativity bias (Velcro for the bad, Teflon for the good) see good facts in the world and in
Feb 04, 2013
Try using a softer tone…
When our kids were little, I’d come home from work wanting some peace after the daily roller-coaster and often walk into a living room full of stuff – toy trucks, tennis shoes, bags of chips, etc. Irritated, the first words out of my mouth to my wife would be: “How come there’s all this mess?” Understandably, after a day chasing children plus juggling her own work, Jan would feel unfairly criticized and sputter back at me. Then there’d be a quarrel or a chilly silence. Not good.
And it all began with the tone I used. Linguists like Deborah Tannen have pointed out that most communications have three elements, …
Jan 22, 2013
It’s been said that the most powerful tool for physical health is a fork (or spoon), since the choices you make with it determine the good or bad things you put into your body.
In the same way, perhaps the most powerful tool for your mental health – and certainly for the health of your relationships – is your tongue. Thousands of times each day, it (or your fingers on a keyboard: same thing) offers the good word or the bad one out into your world.
If you say what’s true for you, and say it clearly and kindly, you get one kind of results. But if you use a sharp tongue, …
Jan 18, 2013
As our ancestors evolved over millions of years in small bands, continually interacting and working with each other, it was vitally important to communicate in hundreds of ways each day. They shared information about external “carrots” and “sticks,” and about their internal experience (e.g., intentions, sexual interest, inclination toward aggression) through gestures, vocalizations – and facial expressions. Much as we developed uniquely complex language, we also evolved the most expressive face in the entire animal kingdom.
Our faces are exquisitely capable of a vast range of expressions, such as showing fear to send signals of alarm, interest to draw others toward an opportunity, or fondness and kindness to …
Jan 10, 2013
Meditation is to the mind what aerobic exercise is to the body. Like exercise, there are many good ways to do it and you can find the one that suits you best.
Studies have shown that regular meditation promotes mindfulness (sustained observing awareness), whose benefits include decreased stress-related cortisol, insomnia, symptoms of autoimmune illnesses, PMS, asthma, falling back into depression, general emotional distress, anxiety, and panic, and increased immune system factors, control of blood sugar in type 2 diabetes, detachment from reactions, self-understanding, and general well-being.
In your brain, regular meditation increases gray matter (neuronal cell bodies and synapses) in the:
- Insula – Handles interoception (sense of your own body); self-awareness in general; empathy for
Dec 28, 2012
Friendliness is a down-to-earth approach to others that is welcoming and positive.
Think about a time when someone was friendly to you – maybe drawing you into a gathering, saying hello on the sidewalk, or smiling from across the room. How did that make you feel? Probably more included, comfortable, and at ease; safer; more open and warm-hearted.
When you are friendly to others, you offer them these same benefits. Plus you get rewarded yourself. Being friendly feels confident and happy, with a positive take on other people, moving toward the world instead of backing away from it. And it encourages others to be less guarded or …
Dec 15, 2012
One slice of the pie of life feels relaxed and contented. And then there is that other slice, in which we feel driven and stressed. Trying to get pleasures, avoid pains, pile up accomplishments and recognitions, be loved by more people. Lose more weight, try to fill the hole in the heart. Slake the thirst, satisfy the hunger. Strive, strain, press.
This other slice is the conventional strategy for happiness. We pursue it for four reasons.
- The brain evolved through its reptilian, mammalian, and primate/human stages to meet three needs: avoid harms, approach rewards, and attach to others. In terms of these three needs, animals that were nervous, driven, and
Dec 10, 2012
It’s one thing to stick up for yourself and others. But it’s a different matter to get caught up in wrangles, contentiousness, squabbles — in a word: quarrels.
Similarly, it’s one thing to disagree with someone, even to the point of arguing – but it’s a different matter to get so caught up in your position that you lose sight of the bigger picture, including your relationship with the other person. Then you’re quarreling.
You know you’re quarreling when you find yourself getting irritated, especially with that sticky feeling that you’re just not gonna quit until you’ve won.
Quarrels happen both out in the open, between people, and inside the mind, like when you …
Nov 27, 2012
Take a breath right now, and notice how abundant the air is, full of life-giving oxygen offered freely by trees and other green growing things. You can’t see air, but it’s always available for you.
Love is a lot like the air. It may be hard to see – but it’s in you and all around you.
In the press of life – dealing with hassles in personal relationships and bombarded with news of war and other conflicts – it’s easy to lose sight of love, and feel you can’t place your faith in it. But in fact, to summarize a comment from Ghandi, daily life is saturated with moments of …