Dr. Rick Hanson

Enjoy the freedom not to…

iStock_000003971862XSmallWe’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 corners of human nature; acting out these forces is bad for us and others.

Giving oneself over to these pressures is un-free, like being a puppet tugged by many strings. It’s the opposite of well-being to be “hijacked,” “obsessed,” “addicted,” “plugged in,” or “compelled” – which all imply mental servitude if not slavery.

On the other hand, a sense of inner freedom is a hallmark of emotional healing, mental health, self-actualization, and the upper reaches of human potential. For example, a common term for enlightenment is “liberation.”

In plain English, we all know what it feels like to be pushed around . . . and what it feels like to have choices and be autonomous.

So, lately I’ve been softly saying this phrase in my mind – the freedom not to – and seeing what happens. And what’s been happening is great. A feeling of ease, of room to breathe, of not needing to jump to some task or to agree or disagree immediately with someone. A sense of shock absorbers between me and my emotional reactions, of not making a mess that I’ve got to clean up later, of not embarrassing myself, of not swapping a minute of pleasure for an hour of pain.

Being intimate with life while feeling free within it.

How?

For one or more of the items just below, imagine what it would feel like for you to have the freedom not to:

  • Press your point home
  • Struggle to get someone to change his or her mind
  • Have a second drink. Or a first one.
  • Worry what other people think about you
  • React to what is swirling around you
  • Act on an impulse
  • Get into an argument
  • Be swept along by anger
  • Identify with a mood or point of view passing through awareness
  • Take something personally
  • Take responsibility for the experiences of other people
  • Criticize yourself for not being able to fit into a pair of jeans
  • Resist what’s unpleasant
  • Drive toward what’s pleasant
  • Cling to what’s heartfelt

For one or more of the items just above, imagine how your greater freedom would help others. Also, let others be freer themselves with you; give them room to breathe, time to think and feel.
hardwiring
Faced with things that grab you in daily life, play with phrases like these in your mind: I’m free not to . . . I’m free not to __________ . . . I’m free . . . there is choice . . . Slow things down, pause, buy yourself some time, that space of freedom between stimulus and response. If others are getting intense, try gently talking to yourself, reminding yourself: You are free . . . you can choose your response . . . they are over there and you are over here . . . there is a freedom . . .

Notice what it’s like to feel freer. Enjoy it. Let this experience sink in.

Be at peace.

Read More

Handling blocks to any inner practice—meditation, yoga, gratitude, mindfulness

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 or your feelings—Explore and get used to simple pleasant sensations, such as the taste of pancakes with syrup, the feeling of warm water on your hands, or the ease in exhaling.

• Uncomfortable tuning into your own experience—Put yourself in a safe setting, and remind yourself that you don’t have to be externally vigilant. Look around for objects or people that give you comfort and a sense of protection. Bring to mind what it feels like to be with someone who cares about you. Remember that you can shift your attention away from your experience at any time you want. Be aware of something pleasant in your experience, such as a pretty sight or enjoyable sound, and notice again and again that continuing to be aware of it is all right for you, that nothing bad is happening to you. Overanalyzing, pulling out of the experience—Bring attention back into your body and emotions. For example, follow one breath from beginning to end, or gently name what you’re feeling to yourself (e.g., revved up . . . exasperated . . . calming . . . feeling better).

Blocks Specific to Taking In the Good

• It’s hard to receive, including a good experience—Inhale and sense that it’s okay to let something in. Pick a simple positive emotion such as relief or gladness, open to it and let it come into your mind, and recognize that you’re still fine.

• Concern that you’ll lose your edge in business or life if you no longer feel “hungry”—Realize that building up in- ner resources such as confidence and happiness can only aid your success. On a foundation of well-being, you can still be very determined and ambitious. Additionally, taking in the good trains your mind to see the whole picture, which could help you spot more opportunities.

• Fear that you’ll lower your guard if you feel better, and that’s when people get whacked—Remind yourself that you can still be watchful while also feeling good. Focus on building up inner strengths such as determination, resilience, confidence, and feeling cared about so you can become less worried about lowering your guard.

• Belief that seeking to feel good is selfish, vain, or sinful, or that it’s disloyal or unfair to those who suffer, or that you don’t deserve it—It’s moral to seek the welfare of all beings, and “all beings” includes the one wearing your name tag. You matter, too. Increasing your happiness will not increase the suffering of others, nor will increasing your suffering make them happier. In fact, developing your inner strengths, including peace, contentment, and love, will provide you with more to offer others. Taking in praise or a sense of accomplishment won’t make you conceited; as people feel fuller inside, they’re less likely to get puffed up or arrogant.

• Fear that if you let yourself feel good, you’ll want more but be disappointed—Recognize that if you feel good today, there’s a good chance you will also feel good tomorrow, and thus not get disappointed. Even if you do become dis- appointed, know that this will be unpleasant but not over- whelming. Put the risks of disappointment in perspective: What’s greater, the cost of occasional disappointment or the benefit of feeling good and building up strengths in- side?

• As a woman, you’ve been socialized to make others happy, not yourself—Your needs and wants have the same standing as theirs. And if you want to care for others, you have to nurture yourself.

• As a man, you’ve been socialized to be stoic and not care about your experience—You need to refuel or you’ll run out of gas. Also, building up your inner “muscles” makes you stronger, not weaker.

• Positive experiences activate negative ones—This is counterintuitive, but it’s actually common. For example, feeling cared about could stir up feelings of not being loved by the right person. If something like this happens for you, know that whatever is negative does not change the truth of what is positive. Then refocus on the positive experience, particularly its enjoyable aspects (which will help keep your attention in it). There are payoffs in not feeling good—Sometimes, let’s face it, there can be a certain gratification in being out- raged, aggrieved, hurt, resentful, righteously indignant, or even blue. But, at the end of the day, what’s better for you: these payoffs . . . or actually feeling good?

• You’ve been punished for being energized or happy— Really recognize that you spend time with different people today than those in your childhood. Notice the people who are fine with you feeling good. Wouldn’t you have liked it if someone had stood up for you when you were young and lively and joyful? Well, you can be that person for yourself today.
hardwiring
• Belief that there is nothing good inside you—The good that others see in you is not a delusion of theirs. It is real, as real as your hands. Hold on to the knowing of the reality of your helpful actions, good intentions, and caring feelings. If people put you down or shamed you in the past, recog-nizing the realness of your goodness is a way to be fair and kind toward yourself today. (For more, see the section on recognizing the good in yourself in chapter 6, and the practice “Feeling Like a Good Person” on page 213.)

• Belief that there’s no point in feeling good since some things are still bad—Know that the bad things that exist do not remove the good ones; the hole does not get rid of the donut. Plus, one way to deal with the bad is to grow the good. I love this proverb: Better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.

Read More

Taking in the good

SunnyI’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 think about things for which you’re grateful, bring to mind a friend, or recognize a task you’ve completed. As much as you can, help ideas like these become emotionally rewarding experiences; otherwise, it’s merely positive thinking.

STEP 2. Enrich it

Stay with the positive experience for five to ten seconds or longer. Open to the feelings in it and try to sense it in your body; let it fill your mind. Enjoy it. Gently encourage the experience to be more intense.

STEP 3. Absorb it

• Intend and sense that the experience is sinking into you as you sink into it.

• Notice something pleasant that’s already present in your experience. Perhaps a relaxed sense of breathing, comfort, or curiosity.

• Find something good in your immediate situation. Perhaps something sturdy, well made, protective, useful, or beautiful, such as a cozy chair, a tree out the window, or a picture on the wall.

• Think of something you are glad about, in your life these days or in your past. It could be as simple as having a roof over your head.
hardwiring
• Bring to mind someone who makes you feel cared about. It need not be a perfect relationship, but the caring—the warmth for you, the wishing you well—is genuine.

• Bring to mind someone you like.

• Think of some things that help you feel strong . . .peaceful . . . grateful . . . happy . . . loved . . . loving.

Read More

How to build a happier brain

Julie Beck, The Atlantic: A neuropsychological approach to happiness, by meeting core needs (safety, satisfaction, and connection) and training neurons to overcome a negativity bias.

There is a motif, in fiction and in life, of people having wonderful things happen to them, but still ending up unhappy. We can adapt to anything, it seems—you can get your dream job, marry a wonderful human, finally get 1 million dollars or Twitter followers—eventually we acclimate and find new things to complain about.

If you want to look at it on a micro level, take an average day. You go to work; make some money; eat…

Read the original article »

Read More
Menu

Wildmind is a Community-Supported Meditation Initiative. Explore the benefits of becoming a supporter.

X