Archives for Altruism
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…
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.
Life is a practice and what you choose to practice is what will make up your character. It's worth considering what you value in life and then making an intention and plan to live alongside those values. This is the direct back to living Ghandi's words, "Be the change that you wish to see in the world." Consider how simple it really is: If you want to be more grateful in life, practice being grateful. If you want to be confident, practice confidence. If you want to be more mindful, practice mindfulness. If you want to be more loving, practice loving yourself and others. If you want to be more forgiving and let go of stress-laden emotional burdens, practice forgiveness. If you want to live essential happiness ingredients such as compassion and generosity, practice compassion and generosity. With this said, no one said it's going to be easy. We are all blessed with this negativity bias in our brains that has kept us alert enough to negative and fearful cues to survive this long as a species. However, this negativity bias steps too far and infringes on us doing what we know inside is the direct path to happiness and well-being. It
I often say if there's two things in life that we can't evade aside from death and taxes, it's stress and pain. Suffering is a part of life, but the mindset we layer over it makes all the difference. I have so many examples in my life, and you may as well, where a difficult time was upon me and that very time was the seed which brought on the growth of the next moment. The reality is, we never truly know whether an experience in life is good or bad because we don't know what's going to happen next. In Uncovering Happiness I write about how the deepest, darkest moment of my life was exactly what inevitably opened my mind to seeking out support that led me to where I am today. It was this very experience, and many more like it, that led me to seek out mindfulness, which
Many of us have set New Year's intentions to be more compassionate, but like the mainstream spread of mindfulness, it's often something that's more talked about than practiced. But let this be the moment where we all dig deep from wherever we are to do small things every day to restore a sense of humanity in this world. Really, what would the world be like if we all were more connected with the understanding that we're all in this together. We all want to feel accepted, understood, cared about, that sense of belonging. Allow this video to be a small moment of inspiration: We can all do small things that are focused on daily giving. Here are 10 ideas, or use your own, mix it up it infuses novelty, creativity and fun:
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,
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.
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?
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:
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,