Aug 10, 2012
Sometimes a person just can’t find any stillness anywhere. Maybe you have epilepsy or chronic pain, or are wildly worried about a child or other loved one, or have been rejected in love or had the bottom fall out financially. In other words, as a wise therapist, Betsy Sansby, put it, like there’s a nest of bees in your chest.
Sometimes the inner practices fail you – or at least aren’t matched to the pickle you’re in. You’ve let be, let go, and let in. You sat to meditate and it was like sitting on the stove. You tried to be here now and find the lessons – and wanted to whack …
Jul 17, 2012
Forgiveness is a tricky topic.
First, it has two distinct meanings:
- To give up resentment or anger
- To pardon an offense; to stop seeking punishment or recompense
Here, I am going to focus on the first meaning, which is broad enough to include situations where you have not let someone off the hook morally or legally, but you still want to come to peace about whatever happened. Finding forgiveness can walk hand in hand with pursuing justice.
Second, there is sometimes the fear that if you forgive people, that means you approve of their behavior (like giving them a free pass for wrongdoing). Actually, you can both view an action as morally reprehensible and no longer …
Jul 10, 2012
Painful experiences range from subtle discomfort to extreme anguish – and there is a place for them. Sorrow can open the heart, anger can highlight injustices, fear can alert you to real threats, and remorse can help you take the high road next time.
But is there really any shortage of suffering in this world? Look at the faces of others – including mine – or your own in the mirror, and see the marks of weariness, irritation, stress, disappointment, longing, and worry. There’s plenty of challenge in life already – including unavoidable illness, loss of loved ones, old age, and death – without needing a bias in your brain to give …
Jul 03, 2012
On a blog at the Huffington Post, I used the example of Stephen Colbert’s satirical “March to Keep Fear Alive” as a timely illustration of a larger point: humans evolved to be fearful – since that helped keep our ancestors alive – so we are very vulnerable to being frightened and even intimidated by threats, both real ones and “paper tigers.” With his march, Colbert was obviously mocking those who play on fear, since we certainly don’t need any new reminders to keep fear alive.
This vulnerability to feeling threatened has effects at many levels, ranging from individuals, couples, and families to schoolyards, organizations, and nations. Whether it’s an individual who …
Jun 26, 2012
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
Jun 22, 2012
Getting caught up in wanting – wanting both to get what’s pleasant and to avoid what’s unpleasant – is a major source of suffering and harm for oneself and others.
First, a lot of what we want to get comes with a big price tag – such as that second cupcake, constant stimulation via TV and websites, lashing out in anger, intoxication, over-working, or manipulating others to get approval or love. On a larger scale, the consumer-based lifestyle widespread in Western nations leads them to eat up – often literally – a huge portion of the world’s resources.
Similarly, much of what we want to avoid – like the discomfort of speaking out, …
Jun 15, 2012
Most people, me included, are holding onto at least one thing way past its expiration date.
It could be a belief, perhaps that your hair is falling out and you are ugly and unlovable as a result; that you can’t say what you really feel in an intimate relationship; or that you must lose ten pounds to be attractive. It could be a desire, such as wishing someone would treat you better, pushing to make a project be successful, yearning for a certain kind of partner, or wanting to cure an illness. It could be a feeling, like a fear, grudge, resentment, longtime grief, or sense of …
Jun 08, 2012
Liking feels good, plus it encourages us to approach and engage the world rather than withdraw from it.
Your brain continually tracks whether something is pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. In essence, is it a carrot, a stick, or safely ignored? Naturally, we like – we enjoy – what’s pleasant, dislike what’s unpleasant, and wish what’s neutral would get pleasant pronto.
Natural opioids – pleasure molecules – are released when you see things you like; on the other hand, disliking things can activate the neural networks of pain. Liking things feels good, so we approach them; disliking things feels bad, so we avoid them.
We are hardwired to like some things, like the sweetness …
May 22, 2012
“Rest your weary head.” The traditional saying that’s this week’s practice has been sinking in for me lately. Thoughts have been swirling around like a sandstorm about work, things I’ve been reading, household tasks, finances, concerns about people, a yard that needs mowing, loose ends, projects, etc. etc. The other day I told my wife: “I’m thinking about too many things.” Know the feeling?
By “head” I mean the cognitive aspects of experience such as planning, analyzing, obsessing, considering, worrying, making little speeches inside, going back over situations or conversations, and trying to figure things out. “Weary” means being fatigued due to continued exertion or endurance, sometimes also with a sense …
May 15, 2012
Can you remember a time when you offered a gift to someone? Perhaps a holiday present, or a treat to a child, or taking time for a friend – or anything at all. How did this feel? Researchers have found that giving stimulates the same neural networks that light up when we feel physical pleasure, such eating a cookie or running warm water over cold hands. Long ago, the Buddha said that generosity makes one happy before, during, and after the giving.
Then there is receiving. Can you remember a different time, when someone was giving toward you? Maybe it was a tangible, something you could hold in …