Feb 10, 2014
We all know this fear. You’re walking down a street, someone you don’t know comes toward you, and there’s a second or more of wariness, scanning, apprehension, and tension or bracing in the body: a barely conscious assessment of possible threat. Or you step into a meeting with people you know and still there could be a watchfulness, a restraint, a certain carefulness in how you speak that comes more from subtle anxiety than reasonable prudence. Perhaps someone disagrees with you in this meeting – and you feel uneasy, off balance, unprotected; maybe later you worry what others thought about how you responded …
Feb 06, 2014
One could rightly ask: How can intangible thoughts affect tangible matter (i.e., the brain)? This question is at the heart of the longstanding “mind-body problem,” and related questions include: How can mind arise from matter? Is mind reducible to matter? Does matter determine mind?
These are important, non-trivial questions, and they’ve occupied philosophers for millennia – and now, neuroscientists. Increasingly, their research is suggesting that the account of dependent origination (particularly, related to the moment of “contact”) given by the Buddha long ago is profoundly insightful: based on preceding conditions, mind and matter co-arise, co-causing each other, distinct but intertwined domains, empty of independent self-nature, …
Jan 16, 2014
Choose to love.
Many years ago, I was in a significant relationship in which the other person started doing things that surprised and hurt me. I’ll preserve the privacy here so I won’t be concrete, but it was pretty intense. After going through the first wave of reactions – Wha?! How could you? Are you kidding me?! – I settled down a bit. I had a choice.
This relationship was important to me, and I could see that a lot of what was going through the mind over there was really about the other person and not about me. I began to realize …
Dec 06, 2013
We’re pulled and prodded by financial pressures, commuter traffic, corporate policies, technology, advertising, politics, and the people we work with and live with. Also, internal forces yank the proverbial chains, including emotional reactions, compelling desires, “shoulds,” and internalized “voices” from parents and other authority figures.
Sometimes these pressures are necessary, like a flashing light on your car’s dashboard telling you to get gas. Even a broken clock is right two times a day.
But on the whole these pressures are stressful and breed a sense of helplessness. Plus, a lot of the internal forces come from childhood, irrational fears, unfair self-criticism, ancient tendencies in the brain (e.g., its negativity bias), or the darker …
Nov 27, 2013
By “sobriety,” I mean healthy self-control, a centered enjoyment of life, and an inner freedom from drivenness. We typically apply this sense of balance and self-care to things like food, drugs and alcohol, sexuality, money, and risky behaviors. And if you like, you could bring sobriety to other things as well, such as to righteousness, contentiousness, over-working, or controlling others.
At bottom, sobriety is the opposite of craving, broadly defined: you’re not going to war with what’s unpleasant, chasing after what’s pleasant, or clinging to what’s heartfelt.
Personally, I think of sobriety in terms of the big picture, and in the context of a life well-lived. Pigging out over a luscious meal with friends once a month is one thing, but over-eating …
Nov 04, 2013
When you try to change your life for better, sometimes you bump into a block, such as distracting thoughts. Blocks are common. They’re not bad or wrong—but they do get in the way. What works is to explore them with self-acceptance, and see what you can learn about yourself. One valuable aspect of taking in the good is that it often reveals other issues, such as an underlying reluctance to let yourself feel good. Then you can address these issues with the suggestions below. With practice and time, blocks usually fade away.
Blocks to Any Inner Practice
• Distractibility—Focus on the stimulating aspects of positive experiences, which will keep your attention engaged with them.
• Just not in touch with your body …
Oct 26, 2013
I’ve been talking about ways to Hardwire Your Happiness on the blog lately. So I thought it would be great to give you a sense of how it feels to take in the good. If you are someone who usually focuses on the negative experiences in the world you can turn that around over time by Taking in the Good. I’ll suggest some prompts here that you can use in your everyday life to start changing the negativity bias in our lives into Teflon for the positive. Take my prompt and go through the first three steps outlined below on your own.
STEP 1. Have a positive experience
For example, you could …
Oct 23, 2013
When our mammalian ancestors first appeared, about two hundred million years ago, their capacities for bonding, emotion, and generosity were extraordinary evolutionary breakthroughs. Unlike reptiles and fish, mammals and birds care for their young, pair bond (sometimes for life), and usually form complex social groups organized around various kinds of cooperation. This takes more smarts than, say, a fish laying a swarm of eggs and swimming away – so in proportion to body weight, mammals and birds have bigger brains than reptiles and fish do.
When primates came along about sixty million years ago, there …
Oct 22, 2013
We’re all carrying a load, including tasks, challenges, worries, inner criticism, mistreatment from others, physical and emotional pain, loss and illness now or later, and everyday stresses and frustrations.
Take a moment to get a sense of your own load. It’s very real, isn’t it? Recognizing it is just honesty and self-compassion, not exaggeration or self-pity.
There’s a fundamental model in the health sciences that how you feel and function is based on just three factors: your load, the personal vulnerabilities it wears upon – such as health problems, a sensitive temperament, or a history of trauma – and the resources you have. As a law of nature, if your load or vulnerabilities increase – over a day, a year, or a …
Oct 17, 2013
I’ve done a lot of rock climbing, so I know firsthand the importance sometimes of not letting go! This applies to other things as well: keeping hold of a child’s hand while crossing the street, staying true to your ethics in a tricky situation, or sustaining attention to your breath while meditating.
On the other hand, think of all the stuff – both physical and nonphysical – we cling to that creates problems for us and others: clutter in the home, “shoulds,” rigid opinions, resentments, regrets, status, guilt, resistance to the facts on the ground, needing to be one-up with others, the past, people who are gone, bad habits, hopeless guests, unrewarding relationships, and so on.
Letting go can mean several things: …