Get your sit together in 2017

December 9, 2016

get your sit together, online course

Meditating regularly has immense benefits. Meditating makes you happier, is good for your health, protects your brain from aging, boosts your intelligence, and helps reduce pain, stress, and depression. It improves your relationships with others, helps you be more effective, and gives you more of a sense of meaning and purpose in your life.

So you might have read that and thought, “Great, but I don’t have the time to meditate.” Or you may have already learned to meditate, perhaps years ago, but have never been able to keep up a regular practice.

For many years I struggled with sustaining the habit of meditating daily. I knew the benefits of meditation, not just from studies … Read more »

Letting happiness happen

July 27, 2016

50572155 - white flower growing on crack stone wall soft focus, blank text

The one emotion that we most commonly repress is joy.

We don’t intend to do this. Instead, it happens through inattention. Few if any of us would sense joy arising and make a conscious decision to destroy it or push it out of awareness. Few of us would refuse happiness if it were to appear. And still we repress joy all the time.

One of the principles of meditation is that it allows joy to flourish. The process of meditating is that you start paying attention to some immediate sensory experience, such as the breathing. Then, after a while, you realize you’ve stopped doing that, and have instead been caught up in some train of … Read more »

How to improve your attention span through meditation

April 26, 2016

girl dressed as superheroYour ability to stick with something varies from activity to activity. For example, when playing Scrabble or a computer game, or watching a movie, you no doubt have thoughts about unrelated things, but you keep coming back to the activity. But in other things, like meditation, you find it more difficult to stay focused, and may even give up.

This all suggests that “attention span” is a question of how you relate to distraction, rather than some intrinsic quality of the mind.

The difference is often to do with rewards: in Scrabble, you naturally get a reward when you’ve completed a word and score points. That gives you a little dopamine hit—not just when you … Read more »

Remembering to be happy

January 15, 2016

I’ve made and immediately forgotten too many New Year’s resolutions to be a believer in them, but the start of a new trip around the sun still makes me reflect on changes that I want to bring about in my life.

One thing that started popping into my mind toward the end of last year was the realization that I often forget to be happy.

It seems that just about any time I want, I can access happiness—or at least I can access a greater degree of peace, calm, well-being, and emotional positivity than was present just a moment before.

It works like this: I’ll be doing something, like working, reading, or browsing the web, … Read more »

Which positive emotion has the most “awesome” health benefits?

March 26, 2015

stonehenge at sunsetThe New York Times magazine this weekend will have an interesting article in its health column, The Well, about research into the health benefits of positive emotions.

The researchers were interested in looking at levels of a compound called interleukin-6, which is associated with general inflammation in the body. Low levels of interleukin-6 correspond to good health.

In the study, students were asked:

about their normal dispositions and the extent to which they had recently felt seven specific emotions: awe, amusement, compassion, contentment, joy, love and pride. The students also provided a saliva sample. While happy moods were collectively still associated with low IL-6 levels, the strongest correlation was with awe. The more frequently

Read more »

Creating a natural anti-depressant brain?

January 12, 2015

uncovering-happinessI haven’t read the book I’m about to introduce, but I’m familiar with the author and the advance information about it makes it sound interesting.

Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion is written by psychologist and bestselling author Elisha Goldstein, PhD. It shows us the science of natural anti-depressants and gives us the practices to unlock them, building new neural structures to uncover genuine happiness.

Hardcover: Barnes & Noble, Book Passage, Indie Bound, Powell’s, Simon & Schuster.

eBook: iBooks, Nook, Simon & Schuster, Google Play Store.

We now know that we can use our minds to change our brains, but Dr. Goldstein’s Uncovering Happiness … Read more »

The art of self-forgiveness

October 10, 2014

self-forgivenessEveryone messes up. Me, you, the neighbors, Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, King David, the Buddha, everybody.

It’s important to acknowledge mistakes, feel appropriate remorse, and learn from them so they don’t happen again. But most people keep beating themselves up way past the point of usefulness: they’re unfairly self-critical.

Inside the mind are many sub-personalities. For example, one part of me might set the alarm clock for 6 am to get up and exercise . . . and then when it goes off, another part of me could grumble: “Who set the darn clock?” More broadly, there is a kind of inner critic and inner protector inside each of us. For most people, that inner … Read more »

Bringing accountability to your practice

April 16, 2014

The Steppe Eagle is a bird of preyI’m just getting over a bad habit relating to meditation that’s plagued me for over thirty years.

It was reading a blog post on developing good writing habits that helped me. The idea came from Brett Cooper who, like me, found that he tended to write in fits and starts, with long periods of non-writing, followed by spurts of intense production.

Two ideas came to his rescue. The first was that he realized he needed to establish “a small, non-threatening daily writing habit,” and that a goal of 100 words a day was innocuous enough to be doable.

The second idea was the realization that he needed accountability. Left to our own devices, it can … Read more »

The Dhammapada: “one of the greatest psychological works ever written”

June 12, 2013
Dhammapada Fronsdal
The Dhammapada, translated by Gil Fronsdal. Available from Amazon.
Jonathan Haidt, who studies morality and emotion, at the NYU-Stern School of Business, discusses the Buddhist classic, The Dhammapada, on Five Books:

The Dhammapada is one of the greatest psychological works ever written, and certainly one of the greatest before 1900. It is masterful in its understanding of the nature of consciousness, and in particular the way we are always striving and never satisfied. You can turn to it – and people have turned to it throughout the ages – at times of trouble, at times of disappointment, at times of loss, and it takes you out of yourself. It shows you that your

Read more »

Cultivate goodwill

March 4, 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 seem justified … Read more »