Coping Ugly

Coping Ugly

By Amy Morin
There’s a good chance you’ll experience some type of crisis during your life: Research estimates that almost 90% of people endure at least one traumatic event.
Whether you’re dealing with serious health problems, natural disasters or the loss of a loved one, adversity doesn’t have to hold you back from reaching your greatest potential. Mentally strong people often bounce back from a crisis even better than before; they may even report feeling healthier, happier and more hopeful after a tragic event.

In my experiences as a therapist and through my research for my book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, I’ve discovered the strategies that help mentally strong people thrive after a crisis:

1. They focus on what they can control
Digging in your heels won’t stop a crisis from happening, but it will waste your time and energy. Mentally strong people put their resources where it matters most by focusing on what they can control—even when the only thing they can control is their effort and attitude.

2. They reflect on what they’ve learned
You can learn a lot about yourself in your darkest hours. While it’s not helpful to replay your painful memories, taking time to think about what an experience has helped you learn can lead to growth.

3. They take decisive action
Ignoring problems or hosting a pity party won’t make a difficult situation any better. In fact, the longer you avoid problems, the bigger they might grow. Mentally strong people look for solutions and tackle problems head-on.

4. They practice gratitude
No matter how rough your experiences are, there’s always something to feel grateful for. Mentally strong people practice gratitude, even during the toughest times. They remind themselves of all the good things in life while still acknowledging their pain.

5. They look for new opportunities
Sometimes a crisis can change your entire life. A job loss or a financial disaster may force you to change course. Mentally strong people accept that they need to adapt to change, and they look for opportunities that will improve their lives.

6. They evaluate their priorities
A major crisis can cause you to second-guess the way you’ve lived your life. But instead of questioning themselves, mentally strong people turn life-altering circumstances into an opportunity to take a closer look at their priorities. Through this process, they ensure that their behavior is in line with their values.

7. They recognize their inner strength
Thinking things like, “I can’t handle this,” or “I can’t get through this,” will affect your ability to cope. Mentally strong people draw upon their inner strength. They trust in their ability to deal with whatever life throws their way.

8. They take care of themselves
It’s impossible to be at your best if you’re exhausted and worn down. So even in the middle of tough times, mentally strong people make sleep, exercise and healthy eating a priority. They know they can’t be mentally strong if they’re not feeling physically strong.

9. They remain psychologically flexible
Recovering from a crisis requires you to be flexible in the way you think, feel and behave. Mentally strong people are committed to adapting their circumstances. Rather than repeat their usual patterns, they’re open to creating positive change in their lives.

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One breath at a time.
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One breath at a time.

My mind has been agitated lately. A series of skirmishes with life has left me feeling quite anxious. Reading anything but a brief news feed becomes difficult and my internal monologue is repetitive and stale. I am currently acutely aware of the correlation between my agitated mind and a shallow mood. So what to do? Interestingly enough, many shrinks I know are on some form of antidepressant medication, or are self medicating low mood through the common strategies such as compulsive series watching, alcohol, smoking pot, pornography etc. I’ve had a brush with one or more of these dark little friends over the years, I’ve also tried multiple workshops and retreats offering masculinity, miracles, holotropic breathing, medicinal plants, lucid dreaming, conscious coupling, conscious uncoupling, yoga, mindfulness, a dizzying array of self help literature, blogs, lectures, the list goes on- and where has it all led my curious, sometimes ferocious often anxious mind? Back to the mat, back to my little cushion with a picture of a chihuahua on it. Perhaps that’s all this self important mind is in the mirror, a yapping little chihuahua who doesn’t know when to keep his little trap shut. So, this morning, at 4:37a.m. I dragged the yapping little shit to my cushion, lit a candle and made it sit. Boy was it hard. Yap, yap…on and on it went, parading an endless stream of mind confetti. I kept returning to my breath as I had been shown…again and again, my mind strained at its breath-leash, unaccustomed to not being able to have its way. Puppy training classes. I wasn’t cruel as I tugged on the leash, bringing my mind back to the breath again and again and again, I was patient, prepared to sit for as long as it would take. Slowly, ever so slowly it began to sit with me, seconds initially, then a minute or two, then off it would dash. I can see that it’s going to take some time, but that’s ok. I’m clear that making the time to sit with my mind and let it know , through the breath, that it is safe, that it can come to rest, will bring a sense of calm that I am aching for as weather pulls through my life, one breath at a time.

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The Demon Ship.
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The Demon Ship.

Let’s imagine for a moment that you are on a boat, I like to imagine something out of Mutiny on the Bounty. Your standing at the tiller in the middle of the ocean. Below decks are the most awfully terrifying demons, dementors and furies. They are made of your greatest fears. You have made a deal to placate them, to keep them below decks…the deal is that in order for them not to rend you limb from limb with their powerful jaws and sharp fangs, you have to drift aimlessly on this ocean, alone, forever.
Thing is that after a couple of months of this ‘drifting’, you’re becoming hungry, deep in your soul, you know there is more to life, that in order to evolve and live with meaning and purpose, you will need a clear direction.
As your hands grip the tiller, the demons are immediately present, howling all manner of horrors into your face, “you’re going to fail”, “no one will love you”, “you’re fat…too old! “, “pathetic!” On and on they howl until eventually you concede to the fears, convinced of their truth. And you continue to drift, to starve yourself of the nourishment you so desperately need.
Months pass, you become spiritually emaciated and intellectually stagnant, your moods darken and your heart grows weary. Slowly the realization dawns that unless you are going to make a concerted effort to plot a course and move towards something that will really enrich your quality of life, you will suffer a pale death, drifting aimlessly until your final breath.
Courageously you set course, determined to get out of your comfort zone, to apply for that new job or move towards a new relationship, to move actively towards change. On cue, the demons return, knowing that you are fueled by courage, they redouble their efforts to pull you off course, they fling shame, humiliation and despair into your eyes, but this time you white knuckle through their barrage. As you continue heading in a purposeful direction, you begin to notice that the demons are made of smoke and mirrors, old stories about yourself, ancient, worn fears whose teeth are worn smooth by the knashing of a weary mind. They become more and more insubstantial with each passing mile as you approach a new shore. Slowly as their volume fades, you become aware of the warmth of the sun on your face, the other ships in close proximity, you notice you are no longer white knuckling and are actually beginning to enjoy your journey…

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Serial Killers

Serial Killers

My eyes are bloodshot and puffy, my skin is a paler shade of white than I’m used to and I’m sure I’m wearing yesterday’s clothes?! This is what happens during a House of Cards (season 4) binge. I’m ashamed, I am an addict, I can’t turn my attention away from the Machiavelian machinations of the power hungry Underwoods.
The psychology behind the narcissistic- sociopathic characters is masterful, the writing slick and the acting more than accomplished. But, I can’t help feeling even as I stuff as much of it into my exhausted mind after a full day’s work as I can, that I am ingesting something fundamentally unhealthy, that I shouldn’t look at it too closely in case I lose my appetite. This form of low level information processing is like eating processed food that tries to distract you from the dastardly fine print of its label filled with carcinogenic preservatives.

In 1843, Marx wrote that “religion is the opiate of the masses”, 173 years later I dare to state that religion has been replaced by Series! Want to write a few pages of that book you promised yourself you would write by 45? Nah, why don’t you just lie back and watch another installment of that great show you’ve chosen as your new best friend for the next week. Need to talk about a thorny issue with your partner? Rewrite your CV, complete your overdue taxes? Perish the thought! The Devil no longer carries a pitchfork, or wears Prada, her name is Claire Underwood and she has a really complicated relationship with her mother.

Watching my mind wriggle out of the responsibilities it has in order to get its ‘fix’ has become farcical. I suppose I could consider a 90 day series fast, you know…to teach my mind a lesson after its gratuitous gorging at the trough, but I’ve just got three more episodes to watch and then I’ll pull myself together (?)

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Is there anybody out there?
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Is there anybody out there?

I read a fascinating article the other day about a psychologist called Douglas Vakoch who is the Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). What a fascinating and rather odd job title.
Douglas has the difficult task of responding if beings from another planet sent a message to us through deep space…Think about that for a moment, how would one man respond to an interstellar collect call for seven billion humans?

Most often messages to extraterrestrial audiences have focused on human strengths. Take the Voyager spacecraft’s interstellar message – in over 100 pictures of life on Earth, with an emphasis on human presence, there were no depictions of war, poverty or disease.
Why not? Who determined what humanities ‘best side’ was? But perhaps it is precisely an emphasis on our vulnerabilities that may be of the most interest to extraterrestrials. No matter how narcissistic Humans are, we most certainly will not be the most intelligent beings in the galaxy, if we make contact. Humans have only had the capacity to communicate with radio for less than a century – a blip in the 13-billion-year history of our galaxy.

Perhaps it is not the beauty of our symphonies that will set us apart from extraterrestrials, nor our moral perfection – living true to our ideals of altruism.
If we wish to convey what it is about us that is distinctive, it may be our weakness…our fears…our unknowing – and yet a willingness to forge ahead to attempt contact in spite of this that truly reflects our unique contribution to a much greater whole.

The article got me thinking about the space that exists between people here on Earth. How every individual could be seen as Earth, separated from others by what can sometimes feel like infinite space. Struggling to communicate, or understand, believing that we are always essentially alone and unknown.
I see so many lonely people in therapy, good, caring, aware souls who truly believe there is no one out there that will understand or accept them for who they really are.
As Humans, we appear to be so invested in categorizing each ‘other’ in order to make sense of our personal worlds (think race, class, gender etc), that we think we’ve got the ‘other’ all figured out. We roll out our ‘best selves’ with a marching band (much like the images of Humanity carried by Voyager), showing our ‘shiny parts’ not only to others but also to ourselves in an effort to defend against our whole, beautiful, damaged selves being truly witnessed. Disconnected from other living beings through our resistance to sharing our vulnerabilities with one another we drift alone and unknown in a sea of possible connection.

Perhaps we will be the intelligent species that has the most exquisite balance of joy and sorrow of any civilisation in the Milky Way. And it is the fundamental facts of human existence such as these that might best be explained not only to other civilisations, but with great courage to each other in an effort to be truly seen and to finally realize that we are not alone.

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7 Ways to get people to like you.
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7 Ways to get people to like you.

I find that many of my patients really struggle to connect on an interpersonal level. There is little information out there about the basics that need to be in place for successful communication. So here is an article I found called “7 ways to make people like you”, courtesy of an FBI behavior expert. It’s a bit thin and poorly written in places but I learnt some interesting facts. Hope you enjoy.

Meeting new people can be awkward. What should you say? How can you make a good impression? How do you keep a conversation going?

Research shows relationships are vital to happiness and networking is the key to getting jobs and building a fulfilling career.

But what’s the best way to build rapport and create trust? Plain and simple, who can explain how to get people to like you?

Robin Dreeke can.

Robin was head of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Program and has studied interpersonal relations for over 27 years. He’s an expert on how to make people like you.

Robin is the author of the excellent book, It’s Not All About “Me”: The Top Ten Techniques for Building Quick Rapport with Anyone.

The book covers the following topics.

1. The #1 secret to clicking with people.

2. How to put strangers at ease.

3. The thing you do that turns people off the most.

4. How to use body language like a pro.

5. Some great verbal jiu-jitsu to use on people who try to manipulate you.

And a lot more. Okay, let’s learn something.

1. The most important thing to do with anyone you meet.

Robin’s number one piece of advice: “Seek someone else’s thoughts and opinions without judging them.”

Ask questions. Listen. But don’t judge. Nobody — including you — likes to feel judged.

Here’s Robin:

The number one strategy I constantly keep in the forefront of my mind with everyone I talk to is non-judgmental validation. Seek someone else’s thoughts and opinions without judging them. People do not want to be judged in any thought or opinion that they have or in any action that they take.

It doesn’t mean you agree with someone. Validation is taking the time to understand what their needs, wants, dreams and aspirations are.

So what should you do when people start spouting crazy talk? Here’s Robin:

What I prefer to try to do is, as soon as I hear something that I don’t necessarily agree with or understand, instead of judging it my first reaction is, “Oh, that’s really fascinating. I never heard it in quite that way. Help me understand. How did you come up with that?”

You’re not judging, you’re showing interest. And that lets people calmly continue talking about their favorite subject: themselves.

Studies show people get more pleasure from talking about themselves than they do from food or money:

Talking about ourselves — whether in a personal conversation or through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter — triggers the same sensation of pleasure in the brain as food or money… [The Wall Street Journal]

(To learn how FBI hostage negotiators build rapport and trust, click here.)

So you’ve stopped being Judgy Judgerson and you’re happily validating. Oh, if it were only that easy… What’s the problem here? Your ego.

2. Suspend your ego to get people to like you.

Most of us are just dying to point out how other people are wrong. (Comment sections on the internet are fueled by this, aren’t they?)

And it kills rapport. Want to correct someone? Want to one-up them with your clever little story? Don’t do it.

Here’s Robin:

Ego suspension is putting your own needs, wants, and opinions aside. Consciously ignore your desire to be correct and to correct someone else. It’s not allowing yourself to get emotionally hijacked by a situation where you might not agree with someone’s thoughts, opinions, or actions.

Contradicting people doesn’t build relationships. Dale Carnegie said it many years ago — and modern neuroscience agrees.

When people hear things that contradict their beliefs, the logical part of their mind shuts down and their brain prepares to fight.

Via Compelling People: The Hidden Qualities That Make Us Influential:

So what happened in people’s brains when they saw information that contradicted their worldview in a charged political environment? As soon as they recognized the video clips as being in conflict with their worldview, the parts of the brain that handle reason and logic went dormant. And the parts of the brain that handle hostile attacks — the fight-or-flight response — lit up.

(For more on keeping a conversation fun, click here.)

So you’ve stopped trying to be clever. But how do you get a reputation as a great listener?

3. How to be a good listener.

We’ve all heard that listening skills are vital but nobody explains the right way to do it. What’s the secret?

Stop thinking about what you’re going to say next and focus on what they’re saying right now.

Be curious and ask to hear more about what interests you.

Here’s Robin:

Listening isn’t shutting up. Listening is having nothing to say. There’s a difference there. If you just shut up, it means you’re still thinking about what you wanted to say. You’re just not saying it. The second that I think about my response, I’m half listening to what you’re saying because I’m really waiting for the opportunity to tell you my story.

What you do is this: as soon as you have that story or thought that you want to share, toss it. Consciously tell yourself, “I am not going to say it.”

All you should be doing is asking yourself, “What idea or thought that they mentioned do I find fascinating and want to explore?”

Research shows just asking people to tell you more makes you more likable and gets them to want to help you.

The basics of active listening are pretty straightforward:

1. Listen to what they say. Don’t interrupt, disagree or “evaluate.”

2. Nod your head, and make brief acknowledging comments like “yes” and “uh-huh.”

3. Without being awkward, repeat back the gist of what they just said, from their frame of reference.

4. Inquire. Ask questions that show you’ve been paying attention and that move the discussion forward.

(To learn the listening techniques of FBI hostage negotiators, click here.)

I know, I know — some people are just boring. You’re not that interested in what they’re saying. So what questions do you ask then, smart guy?

4. The best question to ask people.

Life can be tough for everyone: rich or poor, old or young. Everyone.

We all face challenges and we like to talk about them. So that’s what to ask about.

Here’s Robin:

A great question I love is challenges. “What kind of challenges did you have at work this week? What kind of challenges do you have living in this part of the country? What kinds of challenges do you have raising teenagers?” Everyone has got challenges. It gets people to share what their priorities in life are at that point in time.

Questions are incredibly powerful. What’s one of the most potent ways to influence someone? Merely asking for advice.

Via Adam Grant’s excellent Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

Studies demonstrate that across the manufacturing, financial services, insurance, and pharmaceuticals industries, seeking advice is among the most effective ways to influence peers, superiors, and subordinates. Advice seeking tends to be significantly more persuasive than the taker’s preferred tactics of pressuring subordinates and ingratiating superiors. Advice seeking is also consistently more influential than the matcher’s default approach of trading favors.

Twisting your mustache thinking you can use this for nefarious purposes? Wrong, Snidely Whiplash. It only works when you’re sincere.

Via Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

In her research on advice seeking, Liljenquist finds that success “depends on the target perceiving it as a sincere and authentic gesture.” When she directly encouraged people to seek advice as an influence strategy, it fell flat.

(For a list of the questions that can create a strong bond in minutes, click here.)

But what if you have to approach someone cold? How do you get people who might not want to talk to you to willingly give you their attention?

5. How to make strangers feel at ease.

First thing: Tell them you only have a minute because you’re headed out the door.

Here’s Robin:

When people think you’re leaving soon, they relax. If you sit down next to someone at a bar and say, “Hey, can I buy you a drink?” their shields go way up. It’s “Who are you, what do you want, and when are you leaving?” That “when are you leaving” is what you’ve got to answer in the first couple of seconds.

Research shows just asking people if now is a good time makes them more likely to comply with requests:

The results showed that compliance rates were higher when the requester inquired about respondents’ availability and waited for a response than when he pursued his set speech without waiting and inquiring about respondents’ availability.

Nobody wants to feel trapped talking to some weirdo. People are more likely to help you than you think, but they need to feel safe and in control.

(For more on how to make friends easily, click here.)

Even if you get all of the above right you can still come off like a shady used car salesman. And that fear stops you from meeting new awesome people.

Robin says one of the key reasons people come off as untrustworthy is because their words and their body language are misaligned. Let’s fix that.

6. The best body language for building rapport

You words should be positive, free of ego and judgment — and your body language (“non-verbals”) needs to match.

Here are the things Robin recommends:

1. “The number one thing is you’ve gotta smile. You absolutely have to smile. A smile is a great way to engender trust.”

2. “Keep that chin angle down so it doesn’t appear like you’re looking down your nose at anyone. And if you can show a little bit of a head tilt, that’s always wonderful.”

3. “You don’t want to give a full frontal, full body display. That could be very offensive to someone. Give a little bit of an angle.”

4. “Keep your palms up as you’re talking, as opposed to palms down. That says, “I’m hearing what you’re saying. I’m open to what your ideas are.”

5. “So I always want to make sure that I’m showing good, open, comfortable non-verbals. I just try to use high eyebrow elevations. Basically, anything going up and elevating is very open and comforting. Anything that is compressing: lip compression, eyebrow compression, where you’re squishing down, that’s conveying stress.”

Research backs him up. From Dale Carnegie to peer-reviewed studies, everyone says smiles matter. (In fact, to increase their power, smile slower.)

It makes us happier too. Neuroscience research shows smiling gives the brain as much pleasure as 2000 bars of chocolate — or $25,000.

Via Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act:

Depending on whose smile you see, the researchers found that one smile can be as pleasurable and stimulating as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate! …it took up to 16,000 pounds sterling in cash to generate the same level of brain stimulation as one smile! This is equivalent to about $25,000 per smile…

(To learn how to decode body language and read people like a book, click here.)

So now you come off as the pleasant person you are, not as a scheming taker. But what do you do when the other person is a scheming taker?

7. How to deal with someone you don’t trust.

The name of my blog is not “Helpful Tools For Sociopaths.” I’m not trying to teach you to manipulate others.

But what should do you do when you feel someone is using these methods to try and manipulate you?

Don’t be hostile but be direct: ask them what they want. What are their goals in this interaction?

Here’s Robin:

The first thing I try to do is clarify goals. I’ll stop and say, “You’re throwing a lot of good words at me. Obviously you’re very skilled at what you’re doing. But what I’m really curious about… What’s your goal? What are you trying to achieve? I’m here with my goals, but obviously you have to achieve your goals. So if you can just tell me what your objectives are, we can start from there and see if we can mutually take care of them. If not, that’s fine too.”

I watch for validation. If someone is trying to validate me and my thoughts and opinions, I am alert to it. I love doing that as well. So now I’m looking for intent. Are you there for me or are you there for you? If you are there strictly for your own gain and you’re not talking in terms of my priorities ever, that’s when I’m seeing someone is there to manipulate me.

Want to build a connection with someone? Focus on trust, not tricks. That’s how you earn respect. Trust is fragile. And mistrust is self-fulfilling.

When you ask people what the most important character trait is, what do they say? Trustworthiness.

Participants in three studies considered various characteristics for ideal members of interdependent groups (e.g., work teams, athletic teams) and relationships (e.g., family members, employees). Across different measures of trait importance and different groups and relationships, trustworthiness was considered extremely important for all interdependent others…

(To learn how to detect lies, click here.)

That’s a lot more to digest than “Just be yourself” but far more effective. Let’s round it up and make it something you can start using today.

Sum up

Here are Robin’s tips:

1. The single most important thing is non-judgmental validation. Seek someone else’s thoughts and opinions without judging them.

2. Suspend your ego. Focus on them.

3. Really listen, don’t just wait to talk. Ask them questions; don’t try to come up with stories to impress.

4. Ask people about what’s been challenging them.

5. Establishing a time constraint early in the conversation can put strangers at ease.

6. Smile, chin down, blade your body, palms up, open and upward non-verbals.

7. If you think someone is trying to manipulate you, clarify goals. Don’t be hostile or aggressive, but ask them to be straight about what they want.

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A brief glimpse…
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A brief glimpse…

In yoga this morning, a brief space opened up between thoughts. It felt like a sweet droplet of ambrosia on the tongue of a thirsty man. This has been a busy year and as it draws to an end, clients are crawling onto the couch ‘thin’, exhausted and overwhelmed. The specter of family, or lack thereof often haunts thinking at this time of year, the mind begins to automatically audit and take stock of our individual journey’s. As I was on my mat this morning, holding one excruciating pose after another, before the gap opened, I was thinking about the long list of duties and responsibilities I have managed to accumulate this year. Slowly a realization dawned about the parallels between what was happening on my mat and in my life. My mind (dressed as a nagging aunt, curlers, fag hanging out of her mouth) had begun to complain, to feel sorry for itself, ” I’ve got to do this…and that…blah blah”, on and on it droned until another trusted part emerged on the scene, strong, patient, calm, it said “Jamie…stop being such a pussy- stop moaning and focus on this pose, in this moment, find the balance between your exertion and letting go of the drama it brings up in your mind, find the beautiful fulcrum, the still point where your chattering mind can soften, beneath the furious motion of mind, into the depths beneath”… And for a brief moment… I glimpsed that space, I felt it enter and soothe the bones of my heart and mind.
It is rare, something akin to seeing a beautifully, elusive, rare bird.
If I could give you all something for this festive season, it would be an encounter with that species of inner quiet. So amidst all the tumult that we generate, sit quietly somewhere and seek it out. It’s your ally in all this madness we call life.

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Learning to Ride the Stallion
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Learning to Ride the Stallion

The thing about those we love, is that at times, they can really piss us off. I’m not sure whether Mercury is in retrograde yet again, but my ability to communicate appears to have curdled somewhat. I feel misunderstood, my irritability is high and my tolerance low.

I’ve been here at different times in my life. This week though, was unique because it actually felt as if I was having two distinct experiences: one, the experience of the Jamie who has spent the last thirteen years tuning my empathy and sensitivity as a therapist, father and partner and developing tools to remain centered in a place of self-love and innate goodness; and the second from the perspective of my ego, which is, apparently, still most comfortable dealing with these situations much the way I did when I was five — like a little boy who takes his toys and storms out of the sandbox when he doesn’t get his way. What resulted was an internal sensation that felt a bit like having my large intestine pulled apart in a giant tug of war.

The Buddhist nun Ani Pema Chödrön has a quote about moments like these. It goes like this: Every day, at the moment when things get edgy, we can just ask ourselves,

“Am I going to practice peace, or am I going to war?”

My ego, as egos are programmed to do, chose to answer that question with a resounding cry of WAR! The experience was really no different from the many times I’ve confronted similar experiences, which I’m sure is similar to the way your ego reacts too. I took one look at what had occurred between me and my partner and decided right then and there … on the spot … that it was insulting, disrespectful, and tantamount to a slap in the face. I stepped up on my soap box, pulled out my mental resume, and began to recite all of my exceptional emotional qualities of my nothing less than illustrious life that justified the deep indignation I was feeling. Before long my ego, like Mel Gibson’s character in Braveheart, had mounted its high horse and, with blue war paint smeared all over its face, prepared to ride off to do battle with someone I love.

The other voice — the one that sounds a bit more like Ani, the one I begin to listen to as my old way of coping with conflict lies dying in my arms, the voice that’s been honed by the compassion of my teachers, clients, children and partners, the one I’ve grown to trust through hours and hours of silent meditation, the one that always chooses peace — that voice leaned into my ego, gave it a knowing wink and a patient “I know … I know … shhh … it’s all going be okay …” The voice then took my ego, Mel Gibson, and me to the meditation cushion to, as Guru Singh likes to say, ” bolt your butt to the cushion and ride the stallion” — not to battle, but to peace.

There’s a tendency to believe (or perhaps hope) that meditation and yoga turn us into floating saints that never have bull-in-china-shop moments. But it’s not true, at least not in my experience. The truth, I’ve discovered, is a much more vulnerable and honest reality: that is, that we are all human. Inside we are all facing the same fears and insecurities. We all want to be loved, and valued … and we want to feel safe. When someone in the course of a negotiation — or during one of the many normal, everyday interactions we have with others — says or does something that threatens our sense of well-being, our egos pop out to defend us. This is a normal and natural response. In spiritual study and practice we aren’t learning how to turn off our emotions: that’s not real. Instead we’re learning the skills to be okay while we feel them. Meditation and yoga aren’t some magic potion that we take to make every situation perfect, they’re tools that help us to feel okay amidst the difficult situations that come up in life. We’re not learning how to eliminate the ego, just to keep it from destroying all the expensive china when it shows up. That’s why it’s riding the stallion. Because any true sense of well-being must be inclusive of all of life’s experiences, every thought, fear, insecurity, hope, and dream. The practice is to be okay with it all. We are learning to embrace life by riding the stallion, by feeling it all, and in the process we develop the skills of peace and calm so we can have them at our disposal when challenging situations arise.

For much of my life I lacked the skills to achieve what I said I wanted. I talked about ideals like fulfillment, happiness, peace, and love but I rarely practiced them. Instead my days were spent working hard, feeling exhausted and (often) wishing I was somewhere I wasn’t. Those activities became my habits … my routine, my practice, and I developed tools to support them. Soon it was all I knew how to do. When something arrived in life that required a little patience, serenity, or presence, I would turn to my toolbox but all I could find were tools of struggle, fighting, and wishing it wasn’t so. This is true for most of us: lacking the proper tools, we often make things worse for ourselves and others.

That day, as I sat on the meditation cushion listening to the two voices of my indignant ego and my compassionate heart, I experienced something different. I opened my toolbox and looked inside to see what might help. I began with a series of deep, controlled breaths to calm the sensations of fight or flight I was experiencing and open the door for a third option — patience. When the physical sensations had calmed a bit, I grabbed a new tool and began a loving-kindness meditation. First for myself:

May I be loved, may I be safe, may I be understood.

After a few minutes of self-soothing words, I shared the same desire with the person I had been fighting with: may they be loved, may they be safe, may they be understood. Before long the lines between us began to blur. As I experienced more balance and calm, I released my thoughts and just sat there quietly. With the stallion safely resting, my heart opened and I felt a sense of deep well-being. I breathed and allowed myself to experience the innate peace and inner joy that is our birthright.

This week I invite you to open some doors in your life by opening your heart to the voice beyond your ego. Have compassion for your ego while taking the time to listen to the message of your heart. Discover the beauty of connecting around the human desires for love, safety, and comprehension in yourself and in those you encounter in work and life. Explore your toolbox, see what’s in there, be grateful for what you’ve developed, and begin a practice of developing the tools you find are lacking. View the many moments of your day as an invitation to practice choosing:
peace over war,
love over fear,
and understanding over delusion.

May you be loved, may you be safe, may you be understood.

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Meditation and Science are becoming firm friends
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Meditation and Science are becoming firm friends

Brain imaging shows that when we master a task such as playing an instrument or the advanced performance in a sport, specific parts of the brain are transformed — certain neural pathways grow and strengthen. Neuroscientists have now shown that the same is true for mastery of meditation with direct benefits for improving focus, overcoming depression, dealing with pain and cultivating emotional well-being:

“A comparison of the brain scans of meditators with tens of thousands of hours of practice with those of neophytes and nonmeditators has started to explain why this set of techniques for training the mind holds great potential for supplying cognitive and emotional benefits. …

“The discovery of meditation’s benefits coincides with recent neuroscientific findings showing that the adult brain can still be deeply transformed through experience. These studies show that when we learn how to juggle or play a musical instrument, the brain undergoes changes through a process called neuroplasticity. A brain region that controls the movement of a violinist’s fingers becomes progressively larger with mastery of the instrument. A similar process appears to happen when we meditate. Nothing changes in the surrounding environment, but the meditator regulates mental states to achieve a form of inner enrichment, an experience that affects brain functioning and its physical structure. The evidence amassed from this research has begun to show that meditation can rewire brain circuits to produce salutary effects not just on the mind and the brain but on the entire body. …

“Neuroscientists have now begun to probe what happens inside the brain during the various types of meditation. Wendy Hasenkamp, then at Emory University, and her colleagues used brain imaging to identify the neural networks activated by focused- attention meditation. … Advanced meditators appear to acquire a level of skill that enables them to achieve a focused state of mind with less effort. These effects resemble the skill of expert musicians and athletes capable of immersing themselves in the ‘flow’ of their performances with a minimal sense of effortful control. …

“In our Wisconsin lab, we have studied experienced practitioners while they performed an advanced form of mindfulness meditation called open presence. In open presence, sometimes called pure awareness, the mind is calm and relaxed, not focused on anything in particular yet vividly clear, free from excitation or dullness. The meditator observes and is open to experience without making any attempt to interpret, change, reject or ignore painful sensation. We found that the intensity of the pain was not reduced in meditators, but it bothered them less than it did members of a control group. Compared with novices, expert meditators’ brain activity diminished in anxiety-related regions — the insular cortex and the amygdala — in the period preceding the painful stimulus. The meditators’ brain response in pain-related regions became accustomed to the stimulus more quickly than that of novices after repeated exposures to it. Other tests in our lab have shown that meditation training increases one’s ability to better control and buffer basic physiological responses — inflammation or levels of a stress hormone — to a socially stressful task such as giving a public speech or doing mental arithmetic in front of a harsh jury.

“Several studies have documented the benefits of mindfulness on symptoms of anxiety and depression and its ability to improve sleep patterns. By deliberately monitoring and observing their thoughts and emotions when they feel sad or worried, depressed patients can use meditation to manage negative thoughts and feelings as they arise spontaneously and so lessen rumination. Clinical psychologists John Teasdale, then at the University of Cambridge, and Zindel Segal of the University of Toronto showed in 2000 that for patients who had previously suffered at least three episodes of depression, six months of mindfulness practice, along with cognitive therapy, reduced the risk of relapse by nearly 40 percent in the year following the onset of a severe depression. More recently, Segal demonstrated that the intervention is superior to a placebo and has a protective effect against relapse comparable to standard maintenance antidepressant therapy. …

“About 15 years of research have done more than show that meditation produces significant changes in both the function and structure of the brains of experienced practitioners. These studies are now starting to demonstrate that contemplative practices may have a substantive impact on biological processes critical for physical health.”

From: “Mind of the Meditator”
Author: Matthieu Ricard, Antoine Lutz and Richard J. Davidson

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Everything Doesn’t Happen For A Reason- Tim Lawrence
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Everything Doesn’t Happen For A Reason- Tim Lawrence

By Tim Lawrence

I emerge from this conversation dumbfounded. I’ve seen this a million times before, but it still gets me every time.

I’m listening to a man tell a story. A woman he knows was in a devastating car accident; her life shattered in an instant. She now lives in a state of near-permanent pain; a paraplegic; many of her hopes stolen.

He tells of how she had been a mess before the accident, but that the tragedy had engendered positive changes in her life. That she was, as a result of this devastation, living a wonderful life.

And then he utters the words. The words that are responsible for nothing less than emotional, spiritual and psychological violence:

Everything happens for a reason. That this was something that had to happen in order for her to grow.

That’s the kind of bullshit that destroys lives. And it is categorically untrue.

It is amazing to me that so many of these myths persist—and that is why I share actionable tools and strategies to work with your pain in my free newsletter. These myths are nothing more than platitudes cloaked as sophistication, and they preclude us from doing the one and only thing we must do when our lives are turned upside down: grieve.

You know exactly what I’m talking about. You’ve heard these countless times. You’ve probably even uttered them a few times yourself. And every single one of them needs to be annihilated.

Let me be crystal clear: if you’ve faced a tragedy and someone tells you in any way, shape or form that your tragedy was meant to be, that it happened for a reason, that it will make you a better person, or that taking responsibility for it will fix it, you have every right to remove them from your life.

Grief is brutally painful. Grief does not only occur when someone dies. When relationships fall apart, you grieve. When opportunities are shattered, you grieve. When dreams die, you grieve. When illnesses wreck you, you grieve.

So I’m going to repeat a few words I’ve uttered countless times; words so powerful and honest they tear at the hubris of every jackass who participates in the debasing of the grieving:

Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.

These words come from my dear friend Megan Devine, one of the only writers in the field of loss and trauma I endorse. These words are so poignant because they aim right at the pathetic platitudes our culture has come to embody on a increasingly hopeless level. Losing a child cannot be fixed. Being diagnosed with a debilitating illness cannot be fixed. Facing the betrayal of your closest confidante cannot be fixed.

They can only be carried.

I hate to break it to you, but although devastation can lead to growth, it often doesn’t. The reality is that it often destroys lives. And the real calamity is that this happens precisely because we’ve replaced grieving with advice. With platitudes. With our absence.

I now live an extraordinary life. I’ve been deeply blessed by the opportunities I’ve had and the radically unconventional life I’ve built for myself. Yet even with that said, I’m hardly being facetious when I say that loss has not in and of itself made me a better person. In fact, in many ways it’s hardened me.

While so much loss has made me acutely aware and empathetic of the pains of others, it has made me more insular and predisposed to hide. I have a more cynical view of human nature, and a greater impatience with those who are unfamiliar with what loss does to people.

Above all, I’ve been left with a pervasive survivor’s guilt that has haunted me all my life. This guilt is really the genesis of my hiding, self-sabotage and brokenness.

In short, my pain has never been eradicated, I’ve just learned to channel it into my work with others. I consider it a great privilege to work with others in pain, but to say that my losses somehow had to happen in order for my gifts to grow would be to trample on the memories of all those I lost too young; all those who suffered needlessly, and all those who faced the same trials I did early in life, but who did not make it.

I’m simply not going to do that. I’m not going to construct some delusional narrative fallacy for myself so that I can feel better about being alive. I’m not going to assume that God ordained me for life instead of all the others so that I could do what I do now. And I’m certainly not going to pretend that I’ve made it through simply because I was strong enough; that I became “successful” because I “took responsibility.”

There’s a lot of “take responsibility” platitudes in the personal development space, and they are largely nonsense. People tell others to take responsibility when they don’t want to understand.

Because understanding is harder than posturing. Telling someone to “take responsibility” for their loss is a form of benevolent masturbation. It’s the inverse of inspirational porn: it’s sanctimonious porn.

Personal responsibility implies that there’s something to take responsibility for. You don’t take responsibility for being raped or losing your child. You take responsibility for how you choose to live in the wake of the horrors that confront you, but you don’t choose whether you grieve. We’re not that smart or powerful. When hell visits us, we don’t get to escape grieving.

This is why all the platitudes and fixes and posturing are so dangerous: in unleashing them upon those we claim to love, we deny them the right to grieve.

In so doing, we deny them the right to be human. We steal a bit of their freedom precisely when they’re standing at the intersection of their greatest fragility and despair.

No one—and I mean no one—has that authority. Though we claim it all the time.

The irony is that the only thing that even can be “responsible” amidst loss is grieving.

So if anyone tells you some form of get over it, move on, or rise above, you can let them go.

If anyone avoids you amidst loss, or pretends like it didn’t happen, or disappears from your life, you can let them go.

If anyone tells you that all is not lost, that it happened for a reason, that you’ll become better as a result of your grief, you can let them go.

Let me reiterate: all of those platitudes are bullshit.

You are not responsible to those who try to shove them down your throat. You can let them go.

I’m not saying you should. That is up to you, and only up to you. It isn’t an easy decision to make and should be made carefully. But I want you to understand that you can.

I’ve grieved many times in my life. I’ve been overwhelmed with shame and self-hatred so strong it’s nearly killed me.

The ones who helped—the only ones who helped—were those who were there. And said nothing.

In that nothingness, they did everything.

I am here—I have lived—because they chose to love me. They loved me in their silence, in their willingness to suffer with me, alongside me, and through me. They loved me in their desire to be as uncomfortable, as destroyed, as I was, if only for a week, an hour, even just a few minutes.

Most people have no idea how utterly powerful this is.

Are there ways to find “healing” amidst devastation? Yes. Can one be “transformed” by the hell life thrusts upon them? Absolutely. But it does not happen if one is not permitted to grieve. Because grief itself is not an obstacle.

The obstacles come later. The choices as to how to live; how to carry what we have lost; how to weave a new mosaic for ourselves? Those come in the wake of grief. It cannot be any other way.

Grief is woven into the fabric of the human experience. If it is not permitted to occur, its absence pillages everything that remains: the fragile, vulnerable shell you might become in the face of catastrophe.

Yet our culture has treated grief as a problem to be solved, an illness to be healed, or both. In the process, we’ve done everything we can to avoid, ignore, or transform grief. As a result, when you’re faced with tragedy you usually find that you’re no longer surrounded by people, you’re surrounded by platitudes.

What to Offer Instead

When a person is devastated by grief, the last thing they need is advice. Their world has been shattered. This means that the act of inviting someone—anyone—into their world is an act of great risk. To try and fix or rationalize or wash away their pain only deepens their terror.

Instead, the most powerful thing you can do is acknowledge. Literally say the words:

I acknowledge your pain. I am here with you.

Note that I said with you, not for you. For implies that you’re going to do something. That is not for you to enact. But to stand with your loved one, to suffer with them, to listen to them, to do everything but something is incredibly powerful.

There is no greater act than acknowledgment. And acknowledgment requires no training, no special skills, no expertise. It only requires the willingness to be present with a wounded soul, and to stay present, as long as is necessary.

Be there. Only be there. Do not leave when you feel uncomfortable or when you feel like you’re not doing anything. In fact, it is when you feel uncomfortable and like you’re not doing anything that you must stay.

Because it is in those places—in the shadows of horror we rarely allow ourselves to enter—where the beginnings of healing are found. This healing is found when we have others who are willing to enter that space alongside us. Every grieving person on earth needs these people.

Thus I beg you, I plead with you, to be one of these people.

You are more needed than you will ever know.

And when you find yourself in need of those people, find them. I guarantee they are there.

Everyone else can go.

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