It's easy to forget that we are all perfect in our own design. Sometimes we muck it up with habits and choices that do not serve us. 

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Rick Hanson, Ph.D. is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author. His books are available in 26 languages and include Hardwiring HappinessBuddha’s BrainJust One Thing, and Mother Nurture.

 A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA and founder of the Wellspring Institute...

Rick Hanson, Ph.D. is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author. His books are available in 26 languages and include Hardwiring HappinessBuddha’s BrainJust One Thing, and Mother Nurture.

 A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, he’s been an invited speaker at NASA, Oxford, Stanford, Harvard, and other major universities, and taught in meditation centers worldwide.In 2016 he gave a keynote address at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.

His work has been featured on the BBC, CBS, NPR, and other major media. His free offerings include the Just One Thing newsletter (over 120,000 subscribers), Buddha’s Brain Facebook (over 650,000 likes), and Being Well podcast. His online Foundations of Well-Being program helps people use positive neuroplasticity to grow key inner strengths like resilience, self-worth, and compassion, and anyone with financial need can do it for free.

Dr. Hanson has spent decades helping people turn everyday experiences into lasting happiness, love, and inner peace, hardwired into the brain. He enjoys wilderness, taking a break from emails, and time with his wife and two adult children. 


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Learn As You Go

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By “learn as you go,” I mean that each day is an opportunity to take in the good: to help useful or enjoyable experiences sink in and become a part of you. Then when you go to sleep, you’ll be a little stronger, a little more resilient, a little wiser, a little more loving, a little happier than you were when you woke up in the morning.

This kind of learning is not memorizing a multiplication table. It’s emotional learning, somatic learning. It’s becoming more skillful with the world around you and the world inside you. It’s social learning, motivational learning, even spiritual learning. It’s healing from the past and growing strengths for the future. It’s becoming more compassionate, confident, patient, capable, and joyful. This is the learning that matters most. If things fall apart, what’s already inside you is what you can really count on.

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Feel Whole

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What’s left out?

The Practice:
Feel whole.

Why?

When I look back on mistakes I’ve made – like dumping my anger on someone, making assumptions in haste, partying too much, losing my nerve, being afraid to speak from my heart – in all cases, a part of me had taken over. You know what I mean. The parts of us that have a partial view are driven by one aim, clamp down on other parts, really want to have a particular experience or to eat/drink/smoke a particular molecule, yammer away critically, or hold onto resentments toward others.

The mega part – the big boss – is of course the inner executive, the decision-maker, and the driver – some call it the ego-centered in neural circuits in the prefrontal cortex, behind your forehead. This part is determined to a fault, running things top-down, ignoring bottom-up signals of growing fatigue, irritability, burnout, and issues with others. It draws on and gets wrapped up in the sequential, action-planning, language processing parts of you that are based in regions in the left side of your brain. (The statements here about sides of the brain are reversed for about half of all left-handed people.) Meanwhile, the boss part shames, disowns, and suppresses other parts of you, especially those that are softer, more vulnerable, and younger.

But when you open to the whole of your experience, you have more information and can make better decisions. You perceive more fully, seeing the big picture, putting things in perspective. You free up energy that was spent pushing down your real feelings. You tune into your body, your heart. You’re less fixed or attached in your views. You recognize the good things in you and around you that you’d tuned out. You feel more supported, more protected. You take things less personally.

You feel at home in yourself.

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Enjoy Four Kinds of Peace

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What’s your sense of peace?

The Practice:
Enjoy four kinds of peace.

Why?

“Peace” can sound merely sentimental or clichéd (“visualize whirled peas”). But deep down, it’s what most of us long for. Consider the proverb: The highest happiness is peace.

Not a peace inside that ignores pain in oneself or others or is acquired by shutting down. This is a durable peace, a peace you can come home to even if it’s been covered over by fear, frustration, or heartache.

When you’re at peace – when you are engaged with life while also feeling relatively relaxed, calm, and safe – you are protected from stress, your immune system grows stronger, and you become more resilient. Your outlook brightens, and you see more opportunities. In relationships, feeling at peace prevents overreactions, increases the odds of being treated well by others, and supports you in being clear and direct when you need to be.

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Be Mind Full of Good

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What’s in your mind?

The Practice:
Be mind full of good.

Why?

It’s kind of amazing: right now, what you think and feel, enjoy and suffer, is changing your brain. The brain is the organ that learns, designed by evolution to be changed by our experiences: what scientists call experience-dependent neuroplasticity.

Neurons that fire together, wire together. This means that each one of us has the power to use the mind to change the brain to change the mind for the better. To benefit oneself and other beings.

Using this internal power is more important than ever these days, when so many of us are pushed and prodded by external forces – the economy, media, politics, workplace policies, war on the other side of the world, the people on the other side of the dining room table – and by our reactions to them.

Life is often hard. To cope with hard things, to be effective and successful, or simply to experience ordinary well-being, we need resources inside, inner strengths like resilience, compassion, gratitude, and other positive emotions, self-worth, and insight.

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Beware of Anger

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Have you been wronged?

The Practice:
Beware of anger.

Why?

Anger is tricky.

On the one hand, anger – feeling annoyed, irritated, resentful, fed up, mad, outraged, or enraged – alerts us to real threats, real injuries, and real wrongs that need correcting, and it energizes and fuels us to do something about them. In my family growing up, my parents had a monopoly on anger. So, I suppressed my own, along with a lot of other feelings, and it’s been a long journey to reclaim my interior, including anger, and be able to feel it fully and (hopefully) express it skillfully.

Whether in personal relationships or in the halls of power, people in positions of authority or privilege often tell others that they don’t deserve to be angry, they shouldn’t get so worked up, it’s their own fault, etc. when in fact they have every reason and right in the world to be angry. It is certainly important to know in your heart what is actually happening, how bad it is, what the causes are, and what to do – and decide for yourself how much you want to get or stay angry.

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Be Helpful

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What can I do?

The Practice:
Be helpful.

Why?

I’m doing a series on my personal top five practices (all tied for first place). I have so far named three: meditate (including mindfulness, self-awareness, and, if you like, prayer), take in the good, and bless (including compassion, generosity, and love).

I saw one way to bless on a trip to Haiti in the efforts of many dedicated people: be helpful. As you probably know, Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with roughly 80% unemployment. The national government seemed like a tattered sheet in the wind. The public middle and high schools I visited were missing half their schoolbooks as well as the funds for the last two grades. Imagine your own child in such a school . . . and that the $30 it takes to buy the books she needs is a month’s wages, as out of reach as the moon.

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Be at Peace with the Pain of Others

sunrise-over-the-clouds-picture-id595343542 Be at Peace with the Pain of Others

Can you stay open to the pain of others?

The Practice:
Be at peace with the pain of others.

Why?

Humans are an empathic, compassionate, and loving species, so it is natural to feel sad, worried, or fiery about the troubles and pain of other people. (And about those of cats and dogs and other animals, but I’ll focus on human beings here.)

Long ago, the Buddha spoke of the “first dart” of unavoidable physical pain. Given our hardwired nature as social beings, when those we care about are threatened or suffer, there is another kind of first dart: unavoidable emotional pain.

For example, if you heard about people who go to bed hungry – as a billion of us do each night – of course your heart would be moved. I’m usually a pretty calm guy, but when I visited Haiti, I was in a cold rage at the appalling conditions in which most people there lived. On a lesser scale but still real, a friend’s son has just started college and is calling home to tell his mom how lonely and miserable he feels; of course she’s worried and upset.

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Grow Inner Strengths

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What would make a difference inside you?
The Practice: 
Grow Inner Strengths.
Why?

I’ve hiked a lot and have often had to depend on what was in my pack. Inner strengths are the supplies you’ve got in your pack as you make your way down the twisting and often hard road of life. They include a positive mood, common sense, integrity, inner peace, determination, and a warm heart. Researchers have identified other strengths as well, such as self-compassion, secure attachment, emotional intelligence, learned optimism, the relaxation response, self-esteem, distress tolerance, self-regulation, resilience, and executive functions. I’m using the word strength broadly to include positive feelings such as calm, contentment, and caring, as well as skills, useful perspectives and inclinations, and embodied qualities such as vitality or relaxation. Unlike fleeting mental states, inner strengths are stable traits, an enduring source of well-being, wise and effective action, and contributions to others.

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Accept Dependence

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What makes your life?

The Practice:
Accept dependence.

Why?

Want to try a little experiment?

Stop breathing. Really. For a few seconds, maybe a few dozen seconds, and see how it feels.

For me, this experiment is an intimate way to experience a deep truth, that we live dependently, relying on 10,000 things for physical survival, happiness, love, and success.

For example, within half a minute of no air, most people are uncomfortable, after one minute, they’re panicking, and after four minutes, they’re brain-dead or severely damaged. Second by second, your life and mind require oxygen, the plants that “exhale” it, the sun that drives photosynthesis, and other stars blowing up billions of years ago to make every atom of oxygen in the next breath you take. Or think about the people you rely on – the touches, attention, and caring – or the medicines, wisdom teachings, civil society, technologies, or your own good efforts last year that you profit from today.

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Do Freely

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What are you doing?

The Practice:
Do freely.

Why?

Most people spend most minutes of most days doing one thing after another. I sure do. Typing these words is a kind of doing, as is driving to work, making dinner, brushing one’s teeth, or putting the kids to bed. For all the “labor-saving” devices of the past 50 years – dishwashers, phone machines, word processors, etc. – most of us are laboring more, not less. For example, in terms of employment, the average workweek in America has gotten longer over the past 50 years. Meet someone and ask how he or she is, the answer is likely: “busy.” Doing is a huge part of life, yet we don’t usually bring much awareness or wisdom to it.

Sometimes doing feels good. There could be a sense of flow in everyday activities, pleasure in your own skillfulness or competence, or fulfillment in helping others.

But often doing feels numb, or worse: on your feet for hours, grinding through repetitive tasks, zipping from one email to another, worried about performance, pressured and driven. In America and elsewhere, the relentless pace of stressful doing gradually wears down mental and physical health, and fuels conflicts with others. It’s a big problem, with many costs.

How does your own doing generally feel for you?

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Kindness to You is Kindness to Me; Kindness to Me is Kindness to You

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What do you need?

The Practice:
Kindness to you is kindness to me; kindness to me is kindness to you.

Why?

I usually describe a practice as something to do: get on your own side, see the being behind the eyes, take in the good, etc. This practice is different: it’s something to recognize. From this recognition, appropriate action will follow. Let me explain.

Some years ago, I was invited to give a keynote at a conference with the largest audience I’d ever faced. It was a big step up for me. Legendary psychologists were giving the other talks, and I feared I wouldn’t measure up. I was nervous. Real nervous.

I sat in the back waiting my turn, worrying about how people would see me. I thought about how to look impressive and get approval. My mind fixed on me, me, me. I was miserable.

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Water Your Fruit Tree

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What would bear lots of fruit?

The Practice:
Water your fruit tree.

Why?

My wife and kids tease me that the title of this practice is corny – and it is. Still, I like it. If you don’t nourish the things that nourish you, they wither away like a plant in dry stony ground.

Looking to the year ahead for you – a year that can begin whenever you want – what’s one key thing that will bear lots of fruit for you if you take care of it?

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Stay Right When You’re Wronged

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There’s been mistreatment or injustice – now what?

The Practice:
Stay right when you’re wronged.

Why?

It’s easy to treat people well when they treat you well. The real test is when they treat you badly. (Much of what I say here applies to concerns about injustice or mistreatment that threatens or happens to others, from someone bullying a child to an oppressive government, but I will focus on the personal level.)

Think of times you’ve been truly wronged, in small ways or big ones. Maybe someone stole something, turned others against you, broke an agreement, cheated on you, or spoke unfairly or abusively.

When things like these happen, I feel mad, hurt, startled, wounded, sad. Naturally it arises to want to strike back and punish, get others to agree with me, and make a case against the other person in my own mind.

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Rest Your Weary Head

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Are you thinking too much?

The Practice:
Rest your weary head.

Why?

The traditional saying that’s this week’s practice has been sinking in for me lately. Thoughts have been swirling around like a sandstorm about work, things I’ve been reading, household tasks, finances, concerns about people, a yard that needs mowing, loose ends, projects, etc. etc. The other day I told my wife: “I’m thinking about too many things.” Know the feeling?

By “head” I mean the cognitive aspects of experience such as planning, analyzing, obsessing, considering, worrying, making little speeches inside, going back over situations or conversations, and trying to figure things out. “Weary” means being fatigued due to continued exertion or endurance, sometimes also with a sense of being dismayed, even depressed; its roots as a word have to do with the effects of a long journey. Basically, your tank is running low.

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The Evolution of Love

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How did we evolve the most loving brain on the planet?

Humans are the most sociable species on earth – for better and for worse.

On the one hand, we have the greatest capacities for empathy, communication, friendship, romance, complex social structures, and altruism. On the other, we have the greatest capacities for shaming, emotional cruelty, sadism, envy, jealousy, discrimination and other forms of dehumanization, and wholesale slaughter of our fellow humans.

In other words, to paraphrase a teaching story, a wolf of love and a wolf of hate live in the heart of every person.

Many factors shape each of these two wolves, including biological evolution, culture, economics, and personal history. Here, I’d like to comment on key elements of the neural substrate of bonding and love; in next week’s blog, I’ll write about the evolution of aggression and hate; then, in the next several posts, we’ll explore the crucial skill of empathy, perhaps the premier way to feed the wolf of love.

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Relax Needless Fear Around Others

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Does it feel safe with other people?

The Practice:
Relax needless fear around others.

Why?

We all know this fear. You step into a meeting with people you know and still there could be a watchfulness, a restraint, a certain carefulness in how you speak that comes more from subtle anxiety than reasonable prudence. Perhaps someone disagrees with you in this meeting – and you feel uneasy, off balance, unprotected; maybe later you worry what others thought about how you responded to the disagreement: Was I too irritated and pushy? Do they think I’m defensive? What should I do next time? When you get home, let’s say your teenage son is quiet and prickly as usual. You want to tell him that the chilly distance between you feels awful, and you want to open your heart to him . . . but it feels awkward, you’re afraid of making things worse, and when you spoke from the heart while growing up it did not go well and the fears reaching back into your childhood shadow and strengthen your fears today, so you say nothing, again. (I have had to deal with this myself.)

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Trust Yourself

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Who do you trust?

The Practice:
Trust yourself

Why?

As I grew up, at home and school it felt dangerous to be myself – my whole self, including the parts that made mistakes, got rebellious and angry, goofed around too loudly, or were awkward and vulnerable.

Not dangers of violence, as many have faced, but risks of being punished in other ways, or rejected, shunned, and shamed.

So, as children understandably do, I put on a mask. Closed up, watching warily, managing the performance of “me.” There was a valve in my throat: I knew what I thought and felt deep inside, but little of it came out into the world.

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Rest in Center

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Are you all over the place?

The Practice:
Rest in center.

Why?

Gravity and entropy are powerful processes in the natural world. Gravity draws things together, toward a center, while entropy scatters them into disorder. In much the same way, in our own lives, some things bring us to center, while others disturb and disperse us.

In terms of centering, be aware of your whole body as you take a long slow breath, or think of something you’re glad about. You’ll probably feel more at home in yourself, more drawn into your own core rather than feeling like Garfield the cartoon cat, spreadeagled up against a pane of glass.

In terms of feeling scattered, notice what it’s like to do multi-tasking, the mind drawn in several directions at once. Or what it’s like to open your email in-box and see twenty or more new ones calling to you. Walking down the street or through a mall, see how your attention moves out to various objects of desire: this attractive person, that shiny car, this pretty sweater, that cool new cell phone, and so on: for a few seconds at a time if not longer, you’re dispersed out and away from your calm, clear, autonomous center. And if you have any tendencies toward over-eating, -drinking, -sexing, -shopping, -etc., this dispersal gets more extreme.

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Love What’s Real

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What can you count on?

The Practice:
Love what’s real.

Why?

Because this practice could seem so abstract or so obvious that it’s not worth doing, I am going to take longer than usual to explain why it’s so important.

As I grew up, my family and schools felt like shaky ground. I didn’t understand why my parents and many kids reacted the ways they did, with worry or anger that was unrelated to what was actually happening. It felt shaky inside me, too, and I didn’t understand my own feelings and reactions. Outside and inside both felt twirly, up in the air, unnerving.

So I looked for solid ground. I tried to see and understand what was really true. The orange groves and hills around our home were natural and comforting, and I spent a lot of time there. I started reading science fiction and liked an orderly universe in which you could figure out why the spaceship was falling and save it.

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Leave the Red Zone

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Are you stressed or upset?

The Practice:
Leave the Red Zone.

Why?

There I was recently, my mind darting in different directions about projects in process, frazzled about little tasks backing up, uneasy about a tax record from 2010 we couldn’t find, feeling irritated about being irritable, hurrying to get to work, body keyed up, internal sense of pressure. Not freaked out, not running from an attacker, not suffering a grievous loss, my own troubles tiny in comparison to those of so many others – but still, the needle on my personal stress-o-meter was pegged in the Red Zone.

Then that quiet background knowing in all of us nudged me to cool down, dial back, de-frazzle, take a breath, exhale slowly, repeat, start getting a sense of center, exhale again, slow the thoughts down, pick one thought of alrightness or goodness and stay with it, exhaling worry about the future, coming into this moment, just sensations, calming, mind getting clearer, focusing on what I’ll do this day and knowing that’s all I can do, the body sense of settling down yet again sinking in to make it one bit easier to settle down the next time. Leaving the Red Zone, not all the way to Green, more like Yellow, but no longer even Orange. Whew.

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30 Simple Ways to Create Balance and Connection

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