Dodging sticks and chasing carrots

January 29, 2016

photo-1442782844694-d3cb0de38fd4Scientists believe that your brain has a built-in “negativity bias.” In other words, as we evolved over millions of years, dodging sticks and chasing carrots, it was a lot more important to notice, react to, and remember sticks than it was for carrots.

That’s because – in the tough environments in which our ancestors lived – if they missed out on a carrot, they usually had a shot at another one later on. But if they failed to avoid a stick – a predator, a natural hazard, or aggression from others of their species – WHAM, no more chances to pass on their genes.

The negativity bias shows up in lots of ways. For example, … Read more »

Accept Dependence

January 11, 2016


Want to try a little experiment?

Stop breathing. Really. For a few seconds, maybe a few dozen seconds, and see how it feels.

For me, this experiment is an intimate way to experience a deep truth, that we live dependently, relying on 10,000 things for physical survival, happiness, love, and success.

For example, within half a minute of no air, most people are uncomfortable, after one minute, they’re panicking, and after four minutes, they’re brain-dead or severely damaged. Second by second, your life and mind require oxygen, the plants that “exhale” it, the sun that drives photosynthesis, and other stars blowing up billions of years ago to make every atom of oxygen in the next … Read more »

From shame to self-worth: development of shame spectrum feelings in childhood

August 6, 2015

Silhouette of tree isolated on white backgroundShame is a very primal emotion, one that has a lot of traction in the mind.

As we grow up, from infants to adults, shame elaborates many nuances, like the branches and twigs growing from a single trunk.

Let’s consider four common sources of shame spectrum feelings.

First, consider a young child who is continually signaling her state of being and her needs. Maybe her caregivers respond routinely with attunement, empathy, and skillful responsiveness: this sends messages, associated with positive feelings, of existing for and mattering to her caregivers, of being inside the circle.

Or maybe her caregivers ignore her signals, or continually misinterpret them, or simply have a kind of dismissive tone – “I’ll … Read more »

From shame to self-worth: evolutionary neurobiology of shame

June 24, 2015

Jbilo al atardecerHave you ever scolded a dog and seen him or her look guilty?

Obviously, animals do not have the elaborated textures of thoughts and feelings that humans do. But our emotions, even the subtlest ones, have their roots in our ancient evolutionary history. By understanding that history better, we do not reduce our feelings to animal instincts, but instead find illuminations from our past that paradoxically give us more choices in manifesting ourselves as fully human.

We can find two sources of shame spectrum emotions in our evolutionary history.

First, many animal species live in social groups with clear dominance hierarchies. Once those pecking orders are established, it can be lethal to challenge them. Consequently, … Read more »

Speak truly

June 16, 2015

mighty oak treeIt’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, speak falsely, exaggerate, … Read more »

Forgive Yourself

April 23, 2015

SONY DSCMeditation MP3 – The Heart’s Wisdom: Development of Compassion Everyone 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 … Read more »

Why develop mindful presence?

April 20, 2015
Check out Meditations for Happiness by Rick Hanson (3 CDs)
Check out Meditations for Happiness by Rick Hanson (3 CDs)
This is the second post in the series on mindful presence. You can view Part One here.

So why should we go out of our way to develop mindfulness?

Mindful presence feels good in its own right: relaxed, alert, and peaceful. Not contending with anything. No struggle.

In addition to the inherent, experiential rewards of mindful presence, studies have shown that it lowers stress, makes discomfort and pain more bearable, reduces depression, and increases self-knowledge and self-acceptance.

To quote the father of American psychology, William James: “The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, … Read more »

Let Go

April 16, 2015

The Butterfly in your handsWhat Are You Holding Onto?

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 … Read more »

Giving is the most natural thing in the world

April 9, 2015

Hand holding a fresh young plantMeditations for Happiness (3 CDs) When you consider all this, it’s clear that we spend a lot of time giving to others. It’s the most natural thing in the world. Most giving is small, in passing, hardly noticed, the breath and wallpaper of life. It’s not hard to overlook. And with all the attention paid in the media to images and words of destruction and horrible mistreatment, it is easy to conclude that the true home of humanity is on the dark side of the force.

Yet, while it is certainly true that we are animals atop the food chain and capable of great aggressiveness, it is even more true that we are genetically programmed … Read more »

What is mindful presence?

March 19, 2015

Sunset Stone PileStress-Proof Your Brain, by Rick Hanson (2CDs) This article is about developing the skill of mindful presence.

Let’s unpack those two words, mindful presence.

Mindfulness is simply a clear, non-judgmental awareness of your inner and outer worlds. In particular, it’s an awareness of the flow of experience in your inner world – an alert observing of your thoughts, emotions, body sensations, desires, memories, images, personality dynamics, attitudes, etc.

When you are mindful of something, you are observing it, not caught up in it and not identified with it. The psychological term, “the observing ego” – considered to be essential for healthy functioning – refers to this capacity (i.e., mindfulness) to detach from the stream of … Read more »