Altruism

Be Kind to Unkind People, They Need it Most

To be human is to be in relationship with difficult people. The reality is if all the difficult people in our lives felt deep kindness in their hearts, they would cease to be difficult people. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, "Peace in oneself, peace in the world." Aside from learning how to create a calm and stable mind, one of the months in my 6-month global online program A Course in Mindful Living (coming early October, 2016) is spent entirely on learning how to realize the power of compassion and connection in our lives formally and informally. This not only impacts us, but the people around us, and the emotional contagion of it can create immensely beneficial ripple effects. There's an informal practice that I’ve been doing for a while that is so simple and yet so impactful in working with difficult people and also bringing a sense of balance and perspective in the moment, it’s almost shocking to me. I live in Los Angeles, California which is well known as a city with one of the highest degrees of traffic. If we were to be able to peek into the average LA driver’s brain I think you’d see a hyperactive amygdala and most of the blood flow moving out of the prefrontal cortex. In other words, LA drivers can be a large group of difficult people with emotions and stress running high. One day while I was driving here I was cut off by some sports car who seemed to be speeding weaving in and out of the car lanes. My teeth locked together and my shoulders tensed and what went through my mind is only appropriate on HBO. In that moment I realized how tense I was and likely how out of control that driver was. It made me think of all the cars on the road and how many people were very likely tense in their cars. That simple recognition sparked the beginning of something important. My shoulders dropped a bit and the question arose, “What is it that I’m actually needing right now?” The word “ease” came to mind. So I said…
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Altruism

One Day, One Day, One Day

Lately I've had a lot of aggravation in my heart. Right now there seems to be so much turbulence and violence, verbal and physical, in the world. On top of that,  because our brains' are wired with a negativity bias, we're automatically drawn to the fear, anger, and turbulence. The media knows this and so they keep updating their pages with new stories about negative things. The cycle is vicious, depressing and contagious, leading to more anger, fear and reactivity. It doesn't have to be this way. Our hearts don't need to be aggravated anymore, instead they need to be touched and soothed, acknowledging the pain and opening up to a vision of a brighter future. Here is a wonderful family's rendition of singer, songwriter Matisiyahu's song One Day. 
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Anxiety

Five Tried-and-True Ways to Increase Happiness in Daily Life

We all want to be happy, undeniably. For some people happiness comes easier than others, but what we're starting to understand is that happiness -- that sense of connection and ease of appreciating the good moments and being more graceful and resilient during the difficult ones -- is a skill and strength that we can all build. Here are Five Simple Ways to Increase Happiness in Daily Life (Note: Set all judgments aside when you read this, practice these techniques for yourself, and let experience be your teacher.) Practice happiness for other people's happiness - When you see others doing good things for themselves such as exercising, laughing with a group of friends, or experiencing an accomplishment, practice being supportive to them in your mind. Say things like, "good for you for taking care of yourself" or "glad you're having a moment of joy." Smile in your mind at them or just say, "Yes!" Practice non-violent communication toward yourself - We've known for a long time we're our own worst critics, and the way we talk to ourselves has a major impact on how we feel. Being a little self-critical is okay, but most of us experience it all too regularly. That has to be nipped in the bud. See if you can label any of that self-judgment, and in that moment flip it to actively thinking about things you like about yourself.
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compassion

Finding a Balanced Mind and Heart in the Midst of a Tumultuous World

There seems to be a whole lot of mind troubling and heart wrenching news in the world today. The world's current atmosphere can give our minds endless fuel to race, worry, and catastrophize. When you turn on the news these days, it's all disaster. These disasters are real, but the stories in our minds that the world is going to hell in a hand basket may not be. Our brains are designed to project into the future and attempt to predict the worst case scenarios so we can be prepared. It doesn't do us any good to continue in a state of auto-pilot with a hyperaroused nervous system, spreading worry, negativity and catastrophe throughout our social circle. Not only are our storylines a source of suffering, but spreading these catastrophic stories through our social networks creates an emotional contagious of emotional suffering. We already get enough of that through the news. The news knows that our eyeballs get fused to the screen at signs of danger and plays on it so it can sell more soap. It's a business and the bottom line is truly to make more money and it knows how to play on our concerns. This is the same for MSNBC, CNN, and Fox news - money has no party loyalty. The news isn't going to make a big fuss about the millions and millions of dollars going into mindfulness and compassion research globally, or about these police officers who paid the check of a
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compassion

The Truth About Time That We All Need to Remember

This will be a short piece because I know you're likely busy, but I promise it to be an important one. Recently, I was eating with my family at a hotel restaurant in Liberia, Costa Rica and next to us I catch this older man who was sitting by himself, coming over to a young couple and placing a hand on both of their shoulders. I overheard him saying, "I hope you don't mind an old man sharing some kind thoughts with you. It breaks my heart to see a couple together on vacation in a special place like this on their phones together. Please put your phones away and be with each other." They both smiled, put their phones away, and the young man reached out toward the woman across the table and they connected. I thought that was a pretty bold move on the older man's part (and I was cheering for him in my mind). The next morning I caught him at breakfast and thanked him for helping not only that couple, but also reminding me how precious the moments in life are.
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General

In Politics, Before You Speak, Consider these Three Questions

In the United States we're heading into a potential turbulent political atmosphere that has the potential to be disrupting to even our closet relationships. You may remember from past elections, it's that moment we say something about some candidate or issue and as the last syllables leave our lips our brain has figured out that we have just ignited a fire that we won't be able to put out. The fact is, especially when something is emotionally charged, we often time don’t think before we speak. Our words become actions and actions become consequences. Unfortunately the consequences land us in relationship problems, a blown business deal, or just the general reinforcement of unhealthy mind traps. But there's a way to optimize the way we communicate in this political climate. Just consider, what would the days, weeks and months ahead look like if before we all spoke about politics we considered three questions:
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Anxiety

A Classic Natural Anti-Depressant Practice

Everyone at some point in their life will be affected by depression whether it's their own or someone they are close to. Almost 19 million Americans alone have periods where they feel a lack of pleasure or interest their usual activities combined with feeling tired and heavy, potentially overly emotional or numb, and an onslaught of negative and self defeating thoughts that can keep invading the mind over and over again. The more periods of this depressed mood we have in life, the more likely we are to fall back into them again. Why does this relapse occur and how can mindfulness offer hope? Falling into a depression feels traumatic and just like getting bit by a dog causes us to be fearful of and oversensitive to dogs, our minds and bodies become oversensitive to associations with the depression causing us to react to any sign of it. Feeling low mood is normal for everyone, but if we've experienced depression in the past, this may be a trigger for thinking depression is about to set in again. If we feel tired or if we notice sadness, the mind pops up with the worry "uh oh, that is how I felt when I was
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General

Change in Yourself, Change in the World

Vietnamese Buddhist monk and author Thich Nhat Hanh once said, "Peace in oneself, peace in the world." Iconic singer and songwriter Michael Jackson wrote, "I'm lookin' at the man in the mirror, I'm asking him to change his ways. No message could have been any clearer, if you wanna make the world a better place, just look at yourself and make a change." In The Now Effect you may have read about the science behind why everything you do matters, The social scientists Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, and James Fowler, PhD, conducted a study to look at the effect of social networks. To determine if there was a causal relationship for obesity, they mapped the relationships of 12,067 people who had more than 50,000 connections to other people that were assessed repeatedly from 1971 to 2003 (not online social networks such as Facebook but physical networks of people). They found that, indeed, “birds of a feather flock together.” However, they found something much more interesting: obesity doesn’t start and stop with immediate friends and family; it is “contagious” by up to three degrees of separation. They also went on to find that loneliness is contagious by three degrees and that each person you have in your life
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Bipolar

Three Common Mind Traps that Sink Happiness

There's a funny print cartoon that shows a man and woman sitting on the couch staring at a TV screen, and the caption reads, "It's 12 o'clock, do you know where your mind is?" As time goes on and we grow from children to adolescents to adults, for many of us, somewhere along the way life begins to become routine. Day in and day out, whether we're walking, driving, talking, eating, going to the grocery store, or spending time with our families, our minds get kicked into auto-pilot and continue to develop their habitual ways of thinking, interpreting, expecting, and relating to other people. However, these habits also include habits of the mind that can keep us stuck in stress, anxiety, depression, or even addictive behaviors.  Here are a few habits of the mind and a mindfulness practice to help you break out of auto-pilot and gain more control over your life. Three Common Habits that Sink Happiness: Catastrophizing - If you're prone to stress and anxiety, you may recognize this habitual mind trap. This is where the mind interprets an event as the worst case scenario. If your heart is beating fast, you may think you're having a heart attack. If your boss didn't look at you while walking down the hall, you think you're going to get fired. You get the picture. This style of thinking will support increased stress, anxiety, and even panic. Discounting the positive and exaggerating the negative - The news is wonderful at supporting us with this one. This is where we habitually reject or
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General

I Officially Resign from Adulthood

Some days are just bad days when we wish we could give up this whole adult charade, go to recess, and get back to when times were a bit simpler. Amen. Life seems to get too serious as an adult, more responsibilities mean more worries, more stress, and more body aches. I've spoken to hundreds of people about this exact issue and posed the question: "What does play mean to you?" Sadly, often the response is a blank look, as if the term "play" is a foreign word. Then I ask them to remember what play was like when they were kids. Many people remember play as an unstructured time where they were engaged in something interesting, enjoyable and satisfying. Even just this reflection can begin to rekindle the flames of play.  You can try it out right now to see what I mean. If, like me, at times you feel like giving up on adulthood, then I ask you, "What would the days, weeks and months ahead be like if
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