Archives for Altruism


It’s Time to Build an Army of Compassion and Here’s How We Do It

After the recent attacks in Paris, the Dalai Lama said: “Unless we make serious attempts to achieve peace, we will continue to see a replay of the mayhem humanity experienced in the 20th century.” It's easy to feel helpless when watching the news or thinking about how deeply rooted the suffering is in this situation and in many other situations of conflict around the world today. When a person watches a relative die in a conflict, their contempt for the other side can last a lifetime. There are so many powerful people and strong forces at play, what can we really do?

One answer I came up with is be a force that helps build an army of compassion.

The fact is I can do this and you can too.

Life is full of actions and reactions. This is what makes up the world around us from the trees we see, to the relationships that are kindled and to the babies that come from them. Every single thing we do matters. When Mahatma Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world,” underlying that was the simple assumption that everything we do matters. Now we know the science behind the wisdom of his words, and why all the compassionate acts we do can have a significant impact on our mental health and a potential healing in the world.

Part of understanding the science isn’t a whole lot different than the understanding of neuroplasticity. How we pay attention and what we pay attention to influences the way our brain grows throughout the lifespan. So if we have a continuous series of moments where we are paying attention to helpless thoughts and worrying, so goes the brain. If we have a continuous series of moments where we are cultivating compassion, joy and curiosity in life, so goes the brain.

In the same way, we can have this impact not only on our mental health, but on the relationships that surround us and the world as a whole. You may not be a single force in solving the Middle East conflict or in reversing global warming, but everything you do matters. In order to better understand why everything you do matters, it’s important to understand how emotional contagion works:

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,
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Learn to Forgive Yourself No Matter What

One of the greatest, most unproductive and destructive mind traps many of us face is self-blame. It's as if the brain doesn't know what to do with the uncomfortable feeling that's there and it projects it inward. I've never seen a single example where self-blame is constructive. We all make mistakes in life, some greater than others. But there is a simple truth in life that is worth understanding, we all do the best we can with what we know in any given time.

It could never be any other way.

There's a simple thing to practice that can bring us back to our senses with a bit more self-compassion. This inevitably will lead to greater ease, understanding and refocus us on a more constructive path of health and well-being sooner. Forgive yourself for not knowing what you didn't know before you learned it.

No matter what you've done, it doesn't serve you or anyone else to stew in self-blame. What would serve yourself and others more is     moving into a place of understanding and making peace with yourself. From this space you are better able to more constructively serve yourself and others.

In Uncovering Happiness I share a very personal story where in my twenties I was incredibly destructive to my mind and body. I would be constantly caught in a web of blaming myself for the things I would do - only to do them again.

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Train a Compassionate Brain with 21 Days of Purpose!

I've been in the midst of developing the new free e-Course 21 Days of Purpose that is meant to support a key and radically important natural anti-depressant from Uncovering Happiness - Purpose/Compassion. Creating purpose is a process of understanding your personal personal values and how to put them into action in ways that serve something greater than yourself. In developing this 21 day course and starting to go through it, really amazing things have happened for me, the primary one being that this awareness and motivation to live with purpose and compassion is often on my mind.

I love this, it's really amazing how having giving on your mind creates a feeling of empowerment, connection and happiness.

I've been developing an online symposium on Uncovering Happiness where I'm interviewing a number of different people, for example, Byron Katie, Rick Hanson, Dan Harris, Dan Siegel, Sharon Salzberg, Tara Brach and so many others. I'll launch this sometime in April or May (I hope).

During an interview with Byron Katie she said, "If you have something valuable, you have to give it away, you just have to."

We can allow our minds to pick that statement apart (and they'll want to) to find the holes in it, but if you just take a moment and lean into what she is saying here, where do you notice this is true?

How would you feel if you started giving a little more?

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How to Fall in Love and Uncover Happiness in Four Minutes or Less

One of the primary pathways to an enduring happiness is facilitating a sense of connection. When we feel connected we feel balanced, when we feel balanced, we often feel happy. The problem is
as we grow up in this world, we have to learn how to shield ourselves from vulnerability and so we build up walls or put on armor that make connection more difficult.

One of the most powerful (and challenging) practices to do is look into another person's eyes for a prolonged period of time as it immediately makes us feel vulnerable. It may not matter whether it's a stranger or someone you've been in a partnership with for over 50 years (sometimes this makes it more difficult). But when we do it, it's fascinating what arises.

Check out this short video from Soul Pancake to see some of the surprising results of people making connection:

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Can Meditation be Dangerous?

This is a story of Zen master, professor, poet, and essayist, Louis Nordstrom. 

Over 35 years ago Louis renounced his tenure as a professor in philosophy and robed up to begin his life as a monk. In an NY Times interview with Chip Brown, Nordstrom conveyed some insights into the connection between his trauma and abandonment as a child that revealed a hidden motive in his work with meditation.

He said:
"The Zen experience of forgetting the self was very natural to me," he told me last fall. "I had already been engaged in forgetting and abandoning the self in my childhood, which was filled with the fear of how unreal things seemed."
For Nordstrom, meditation felt like a natural fit as there was a familiarity and calmness that came from detaching from thoughts,
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Use Your Difficult Emotions to Gain Emotional Freedom

For a number of months now hundreds of people have been taking the Basics in Mindfulness Meditation: 28 day program challenge to bring more mindfulness, self-compassion, compassion and balance into their lives. Throughout the course questions are asked that I field and one came in recently that I thought important to bring to all people as it is a seminar question of our time.

Here is the question

Hi Elisha, Thank you for this very helpful course. I notice that my thoughts start whirring around in my head when I have had an emotional encounter. I try to accept the thoughts, acknowledge it being there, then focus on breathing or the body scan but my mind races back to that emotion I experience of sadness. How can I pull myself into the moment when this happens? Will appreciate your advice.

Here is an answer

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7 Essential Lessons I’ve Learned as a Psychotherapist

One of the wonderful surprises of being a therapist all these years is how big the gift of being of service can be. I have the privilege of knowing people intimately and supporting them in opening their hearts and uncovering happiness. When I sit with that, it gives me an immense sense of purpose. Herein lies life's beautiful paradox: The more love you give away, the more love you have. The ripple effects give me immense joy.

Through this experience I've realized at times it's important to relay back what I've learned.

1. Essential Books to Have at Your Bedside
Aside from Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion (debut: January, 2015) - wink! - I’m a big fan of books that keep it simple. Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk who writes simply and elegantly and I am a fan of many of his works. Taming the Tiger Within and The Miracle of Mindfulness are some of my favorites.
2. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?
That there’s an end goal.

I don’t mean that people need to be in therapy for an indefinite time, but there’s a faulty notion of achieving some end state. This focus makes therapy more difficult as the mind is cluttered with an expectation instead of focusing on learning. Even if insurance only covers 10 sessions and wants a definitive end goal, we have to always keep in mind that therapy is a vehicle for learning and while we can begin to master certain ways of being, growing and learning about ourselves in life never ends.
3. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?
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The Power of Belief: Why You Have Exactly What You Need to Heal

Recent I had an eye opening dream while I was asleep.
I was in a war torn region and superheroes existed (Keep in mind I have a couple younger kids).

I was injured somehow, but some of these superheroes were telling me I could fly.

As I tried to fly, I felt a little lift but kept falling.

A few people who were the enemy were chasing me and I was afraid. I ran and tried to fly, but couldn’t get that far (At this point you are welcome to psychoanalyze me).

The superheroes told me:

“You have to believe, believe you can fly and you can do it.”

At that point I decided to risk it, I leaned it a bit further and took a leap (literally and figuratively), believing that if I did this I would fly.

Lo’ and behold I was up in the air flying around. I couldn’t believe it.

As the dream continued I was able to help some people, but I would lose my belief from time to time and had trouble getting up in the air.

I remembered the words, “You have to believe, believe you can fly and you can do it.” I risked again, took the leap...
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Be 10% Kinder

British author Aldous Huxley, most famous for his book Brave New World, spent his life digging into the world’s problems and through that experience inevitably became quite a spiritual man. I guess it rings of Rumi’s quote, “Don’t turn your gaze. Look toward the bandaged place, that’s where the light enters. Late in his life at one of his final public speeches he said something illuminating, “It's a little embarrassing that after 45 years of research & study, the best advice I can give people is to be a little kinder to each other.”

What would life be like if we each practiced being 10% kinder each day?
10% kinder to ourselves.

10% kinder to one another.
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The Power of Surrender: Why Giving Up is an Act of Courage and Wisdom

In our culture the notion of surrendering has a negative connotation to it. It means you’ve been defeated and that you’re powerless. But if you look to the world’s wisdom traditions you’ll find that the idea of surrendering is a courageous act that creates more insight and freedom from the unnecessary mental struggles of life. 

The 13th century Sufi poet Rumi uses a wonderful metaphor to bring this to life:
Very little grows on jagged rock.

Be ground. Be crumbled,

so wildflowers will come up

where you are.

You've been stony for too many years.

Try something different.

Many of us harden into patterns of life that keep the struggle going. We can’t seem to let go of the self-judgment because our brain believes it’s there to keep us in line. We numb out to the world through eating, drinking, over-use of social media, among so many other ways.
Question: Why is our brain so afraid of surrendering our unhealthy patterns of thinking and behaving?

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