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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Rest Your Weary Head

rest

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

cuddling-wolves

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

anxietyandfear

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

trustyourself

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

restincenter

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

love_pet

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

meter-picture-id647231830

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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Love Someone

heart

What can you do when there’s nothing you can do?

The Practice:
Love Someone.
Why?

Sometimes something happens. Perhaps your sweet old cat takes a turn for the worse, or there’s a money problem, or your son waves goodbye as he gets on a plane to start college on the other side of the country. Sometimes it’s on a larger scale: maybe there’s been an election and you’re grappling with its consequences (see my last post on this topic: Take Heart).

Or you might be dealing with something ongoing, like a dead-end job (or no job at all), life after divorce, chronic pain, or a teenager who won’t talk to you.

Whatever it is, at first, it’s normal to feel rattled, frozen, or unclear about what to do. After awhile, you do what you can to change things for the better. But often there’s not much you can actually change and sometimes nothing at all.

Still, there is always one thing you can do, no matter what.

You can always find someone to love.

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“Us” All “Thems”

blurred-crowd

Who’s outside your circle?

The Practice:
“Us” All “Thems”

Why?

By “us” all “thems,” I mean finding common ground with every person – especially those you fear or are angry with or who are simply very different from you. These days this practice is more important than ever.

For most of the past 300,000 years, our human ancestors lived in small bands of about 50 people in which they survived by being good at caring about and cooperating with people inside the band – with “us” – while also being good at fearing and aggressing upon people outside their band: “them.” And for 2 million years before that, our hominid ancestors lived and evolved under similar pressures.

That’s a long long time. And during the last 10,000 years, as agriculture produced food surpluses that enabled larger groups, this same tribalistic pattern has repeated at bigger scales. While there are heartening examples of people extending themselves for strangers, most of us are vulnerable to the ancient drumbeats of grievance and vengeance – now amplified to a thunder by modern technologies like social media.

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Grow a Key Inner Strength

innerstrength

What do you need?

The Practice:
Grow a key inner strength.

Why?

We all have issues – including demands upon us, stresses, illnesses, losses, vulnerabilities, and pain. (As Alan Watts put it: “Life is wiggly.”) Of course, many of our issues – in the broad sense I’m using the word here – are related to important sources of fulfillment, such as starting a business or raising a family; still, there’s some kind of challenge.

This JOT offers a basic road map for how to deal with issues – for healing, well-being and effectiveness, and personal growth. It’s a little longer than usual, but the approach here has helped me a lot – and I bet it will help you, too.

Some issues are out there in the world, such as financial concerns, an aging parent with dementia, a baby with colic, a tough quarter at work (or in college), a combative neighbor, or conflicts in an intimate relationship.

Some issues are in the body, such as an illness, injury, or vulnerability to dysregulated hormones.

And some issues are in the mind, like anxiety, depressed mood, low self-worth, trauma, lingering pain from childhood, learning disability, fear of public speaking, or grief over a loss.

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Take Heart

child-hands-formig-heart-shape-picture-id951945718

What do you do when the bottom falls out?

The Practice:
Take heart.

Why?

It takes heart to live in even ordinary times.

By “taking heart,” I mean several related things:

  • Sensing your heart and chest
  • Finding encouragement in what is good both around you and inside you
  • Resting in your own warmth, compassion, and kindness; resting in the caring for you from others; love flowing in and love flowing out
  • Being courageous, whole-hearted and strong-hearted – going forward wisely, even when anxious, knowing your own truth and, as you can, speaking it

When you take heart, you’re more able to deal with challenges like aging, illness, trauma, or conflicts with others. You’re also more able to take advantage of opportunities with confidence and grit.

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Step Into The Cloud

aerial-view-of-a-cloudscape-on-a-clear-day-picture-id186872841

Juggling bricks?

The Practice:
Step into the cloud.

Why?

I had a lightbulb moment recently: I was feeling stressed about all the stuff I had to do (you probably know the feeling). After this went on for a while, I stepped back and kind of watched my mind, and could see that I was thinking of these various tasks as things, like big rocks that were rolling down a hill toward me and which needed to be handled, lifted, moved, fended off, or broken into pebbles. As soon as I dealt with one thing-y boulder, another one was rolling toward me. Shades of Sisyphus.

Seen as brick-like entities, no wonder these tasks felt heavy, oppressive, burdensome. Yuch!

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Find Your North Star

Northstar

Where are you headed?

The Practice:
Find your North Star.

Why?

I did a meditation retreat (at Spirit Rock, wonderful place, including for workshops). One evening as we walked out of the hall after the last sit, I was feeling rattled and discombobulated. (One of the benefits of a retreat – though it can be uncomfortable – is that it stirs up of the sediments of your psyche, which can muddy your mental waters for a while.)

I looked up at the stars shining brightly in the cold clear night, and soon noticed the Big Dipper. My eyes followed its pointing to Polaris, the North Star, and a wave of easing came over me. The star felt steady and reassuring, something you could count on. It connected I think with a young part of me who loved the outdoors and learned to believe that as long as he could locate the North Star, he could find his way out of the tangled woods and back to safety.

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Back to Basics

winter-sunset-picture-id182446605

What’s fundamental?

The Practice:
Back to Basics.

Why?

In middle school, I thought it would be cool to play a musical instrument and picked the clarinet. My wise parents rented one rather than buying it, and I started practicing. (In the garage because it sounded pretty screechy.) After a week or two of doing scales, I got bored and picked my way through a couple easy songs. But after a few more weeks, I couldn’t go further because I hadn’t laid a foundation with scales and similar exercises – so I quit in frustration. To this day, I regret never learning to play a musical instrument.

I and others tend to skip over the fundamentals for a variety of reasons, including impatience, laziness, or a kind of arrogance that thinks we can sort of get away with not paying our dues. There’s also the subtle impact of our media, which showcases celebrities who seem to spring out of thin air – though actually it took years for them to become an overnight success.

But when we don’t take care of the fundamentals, the foundation is shaky for whatever we’ve built: a relationship, a career, personal well-being, spiritual practice – or playing the clarinet. Perhaps we can get away with this for awhile, but there’s usually a background cost in uneasiness, waiting for a day of reckoning, perhaps with the sense of being an imposter. And eventually, when a real challenge comes, the building shakes and maybe topples.

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Don’t Rain On The Parade

rain-on-rainbow-umbrella-picture-id846986114

Why do we have cheerleaders?

The Practice:
Don’t rain on the parade.

Why?

Let’s say you’ve had an interesting idea or moment of inspiration, or thought of a new project, or felt some enthusiasm bubbling up inside you. Your notions are not fully formed and you’re not really committed to them yet, but they have promise and you like them and are trying them on for size. Then what?

If a family member or friend responds in a neutral or positive way, even if they also raise some practical questions, you likely feel good, supported, energized. But if that same person were to lead with a mainly negative response, focusing on problems, constraints, and risks – no matter how valid they are – you’d probably feel at least a little deflated, and maybe misunderstood, put down, or obstructed. Take a moment to reflect on how this may have happened to you, as a child or an adult.

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Bless

burning-heart-picture-id172200193

Wishing well?

The Practice:
Bless.

Why?

Lately, I’ve been wondering what would be on my personal list of top five practices (all tied for first place). You might ask yourself the same question, knowing that you can cluster related practices under a single umbrella, your list may differ from mine, and your practices may change over time.

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Lean Into Good On First Waking

profile-view-of-beautiful-woman-drinking-coffee-by-the-window-picture-id1221311726

What do you think about when you first wake up?

The Practice:
Lean into good on first waking.

Why?

Waking up is like the sun rising. At first it’s mostly dark, as glimmers of consciousness begin to light the shadows. Emerging into full wakefulness, the fogs and veils dissolve and the whole plain of your mind comes into view. It’s quiet: a restedness in the body, sleepy still, not yet much internal verbal chatter. There’s an intimacy with yourself, abiding as the core of your be-ing.

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Give Them What They Want

red-rose-in-the-palm-of-your-hand-picture-id162433466

What’s up with these people?

The Practice:
Give them what they want.

Why?

Research shows that relationships are built from interactions, and interactions are built from moments. A critical moment in an interaction is when one person wants something from the other one. (“Wants” include wishes, needs, desires, hopes, and longings.) The want could be simple and concrete, like “Please pass the salt.” Or it could be complex and intangible, such as “Please love me as a romantic partner.”

Wants can be communicated in many ways. Gaze, touch, tone, facial expression, posture, and action speak volumes. Whether verbally or nonverbally, some people express their wants clearly, but many do not. The more important a want is, the more likely it will leak out slowly, or be expressed with a lot of distracting add-ons and emotional topspin.

Now what?!

Think of a significant relationship. How clearly have you expressed your own wants in it? How do you feel when the other person makes a sincere effort to give you what you want?

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Take Heart

takeheart It takes heart to live in even ordinary times.

What do you do when the bottom falls out?

The Practice:
Take heart.

Why?

It takes heart to live in even ordinary times.

By “taking heart,” I mean several related things:

  • Sensing your heart and chest
  • Finding encouragement in what is good both around you and inside you
  • Resting in your own warmth, compassion, and kindness; resting in the caring for you from others; love flowing in and love flowing out
  • Being courageous, whole-hearted and strong-hearted – going forward wisely, even when anxious, knowing your own truth and, as you can, speaking it

When you take heart, you’re more able to deal with challenges like aging, illness, trauma, or conflicts with others. You’re also more able to take advantage of opportunities with confidence and grit.

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When You Speak: Drop Tart Tone

ripe-and-fresh-lemon-on-branch-picture-id615896990 Drop Tart Tone - it matters

The Practice:
Drop tart tone.

Why?

Tone matters.

I remember times I felt frazzled or aggravated and then said something with an edge to it that just wasn’t necessary or useful. Sometimes it was the words themselves: such as absolutes like “never” or always,” or over-the-top phrases like “you’re such a flake” or “that was stupid.” More often it was the intonation in my voice, a harsh vibe or look, interrupting, or a certain intensity in my body. However I did it, the people on the receiving end usually looked like they’d just sucked a lemon. This is what I mean by tart tone.

People are more sensitive to tone than to the explicit content of spoken or written language. To paraphrase the poet Maya Angelou, people will forget what you said, but they’ll remember how you made them feel. And we are particularly reactive to negative tone, due to the negativity bias in the brain (written about in previous JOTs).

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30 Simple Ways to Create Balance and Connection

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