Archives for Well-being
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.
We’ve all experienced it. It’s the moment we say something and as the last syllables leave our lips our brain has figured out we put our foot in our mouths and reaches to take them back, but it’s too late. The fact is 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 what if I told you there’s a way to fix this. Just consider, what would the days, weeks and months ahead look like if before we all spoke we considered three questions: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? These a questions that one might say are inspired by the world’s wisdom traditions and have great relevance to our relationships in our families, friendships, business, and education today. In this emerging world where we’re quick to fire off texts, tweets, Snapchats and Facebook messages, it might be more important than ever to
We all have difficult people in our lives, it's part of the human experience. Typically, we tend to see them as a nuisance, individuals we have to put up with, or even avoid. This also comes with it's share of suffering. I'm not familiar with the author of the quote above, but the message is worth being curious about. What if we could change our perception to seeing difficult people as messengers or teachers who arouse something inside of us that needs to be cared for or loved? If we do this, might we become less reactive toward ourselves and other people? Inevitably, won't this provide a chance for more relationships to improve? Might it be easier to let go of bitter grudges and move toward strengthening mindfulness, self-compassion, and forgiveness? This isn't Pollyanna, it's a practical approach that can help us focus more on what matters in life. Moreover, consider this: If relationships improve, might that support communities, regions and countries to improve? Is it possible to set off a spark in this way that leads to not only the healing of our individual being, but the healing of humanity? Whoa, that's a bit too large to imagine perhaps, so let's just begin with today and ourselves. Today, try this...
Most people believe that waiting is a waste of time and it's best to fill that time with something... anything. Whether we're in line at a the grocery story, waiting at a doctor's office, or sitting at a stoplight, the brain seems to be cued to fill that space. Nowadays, many of us pull out our phones and begin sifting through various messages, reading over documents, or surfing the web. However, the belief that waiting has no value is mistaken. In fact, the secret to a sense of personal control, general satisfaction with life and even success, lies in learning how to find peace with waiting. We've all heard the famous adage, "Patience is a virtue" or "Good things come to those who wait." Easier said than done, why? We're not in control of our brains Because underneath the subtle yet intolerable experience of waiting is a little anxious gremlin that fears being alone. This gremlin is operating on old software that says if you're alone that means you're not being protected by your clan and it's a threat to your safety. In those small moments of waiting, the gremlin takes the controls of your brain and reaches for something to "be with" so you're not alone anymore. In other words, the anxious gremlin is in control and you're not. Studies are clear that lacking a sense of control is associated with negative stress, anxiety and depression. Also, the more we let the gremlin run our brain, the stronger it gets - or as the Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb says, "neurons that fire together, wire together." Using waiting for good
A while back I decided to try an experiment. I interviewed over 20 top leading experts in the field of happiness to ask them what that word actually meant and in their professional experience, what are some practical ways to begin making it a reality. This was called the Uncovering Happiness Symposium and some of the people interviewed included Sharon Salzberg, Dan Siegel, Rick Hanson, Jack Kornfield, Dan Harris, Kelly McGonigal, Tara Brach, Byron Katie and more. Byron Katie struggled throughout her life with deep deep depression and ultimately found a path that led her to a simple way to break free from the internal negativity and into greater states of freedom. She defined this as happiness. Here are the four questions to ask ourselves to help challenge compelling negative thoughts:
We live in a time where there is simply too much to pay attention to. Our nervous systems are overloaded leading many people to disconnect and now we're seeing rising levels of anxiety and depression. In fact, there isn't a single person I know who hasn't experienced these in one form or another. But when you try to convey what anxiety depression really feel like, words never really do it justice. Katie Joy Crawford is a photographer who through her own experience has created 12 stunning photos she calls, "My Anxious Heart" depicting how anxiety and depression feel. Allow this to be a mindfulness practice, take a breath and look at each picture, notice what kinds of thoughts, emotions and sensations arise. Does the picture resonate with you in some way or at some point in your life? A picture is truly worth more than a thousand words. "depression is when you can’t feel at all. anxiety is when you feel too much. having both is a constant war within your own mind. having both means never winning."
If you've followed my writing or heard me speak you may have heard me quote Philosopher and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel saying, "Life is routine and routine is resistance to wonder." Our brains are wired toward routine and we absolutely lose our sense of wonder in every day life. Yet wonder is a natural anti-depressant. When we pause, have a moment of mindfulness and open our senses, the sights, smells, tastes, sounds and feeling of things comes alive. There are so many wonders all around us that can bring alive the magic of the world. I wanted to share one of them with you put out by filmmaker Alexis Coram in National Geographic who films the "auroras" of the Northern Lights. Take 3 minutes and treat this as a mindful experiment. As you watch, what do you notice. See if you become aware of the fact that here we are sitting on a spinning planet in the middle of space. Look at this beauty, what comes alive in you?
In this human life we get our share of joys and our share of sorrows. The brain is wired to hang onto the fears and sorrows more than the joys so that it guard against what's uncomfortable and keep us safe. However, in doing this we have the experience of holding onto the difficult in our lives and many of us would enjoy the ability to "let go" a little easier. One of my favorite paths in teaching isn't through the intellect, but through poetry which can reach beyond the rational brain and more directly to the emotional brain where our decision making and "holding" lies. Here is a poem that speaks directly to the possibility of letting go.
Pause...Take a Breath...Read...See What ArisesShe let go She let go. Without a thought or a word, she let go.
In Uncovering Happiness I talk about how the #1 bad habit that most people have can be surprising - our thinking. Before we fall into procrastination, stress eating, isolating, habitually engaging our Smartphones or any other addictive behavior there's a thought. The thought is something like, I need to get away from something uncomfortable that's here or at times, I want to elate the good feeling that's here. One of the most powerful ways I have found to change the atmosphere of the mind is a very simple gratitude practice (but with a power boost). Now, before your eyes roll you need to know this, thoughts may be arising in your mind right now such as, "not this gratitude stuff again, I've read this in a thousand places." If you notice this thought ask yourself, what is the net effect of this thought here. Does it incline you to move toward this practice that you've heard about a thousand times or away from it? The answer is most likely that it inclines you away from it. If we all know it's a supportive practice, why does the mind do this? Because the brain is wired to habituate to things. This is the classic top-down processing in effect. You
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.