Archive for the ‘Positivity’ Category

From Delusion to Wisdom

August 10, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. The subtitle is Awakening from the Dream.

The chapter begins with two quotes:
Delusion has the characteristic of blindness, of not penetrating reality, of covering the true nature of experience, of fostering unwise attention, of causing deluded action.

Hey there. You’ve been asleep for a long time.
Isn’t it time to awaken?
—Sign on the entry path to Ajahn Chah’s monastery.

Here is a fifteenth principle of Buddhist psychology:
Delusion misunderstands the world and forgets who we are. Delusion gives rise to all unhealthy states. Free yourself from delusion and see with wisdom.

The first level of delusion is inattention.

Kornfield writes, “With delusion we live our lives on automatic pilot. We walk down the street and return home without registering were we are and what is happening. On stormy days we miss the scudding clouds the splash of rain at our feet, and the glow of windows at twilight. We miss the spark in the air on a sunny spring morning. We even miss the faces of our loved ones when we arrive home.

Whole periods of our lives disappear in the trance of delusion. We live in a culture of chronic inattention fed by the frenzied pace of modern life. Our schools and workplaces push us to multitask, and our fragmented attention becomes cursory, shallow. Surrounded by stimulation, we become bored and restless, prone to addictions of all kinds. As author Anne Wilson Schaef points out, ‘It is in the interests of consumer society to promote these things that take the edge off, keep us busy with our fixes, and keep us slightly numbed out and zombie-like. Unfortunately, what is commonly accepted by Western psychology as ‘normal’ can actually mean we are functioning at a significant level of delusion even when we outwardly appear successful, possess everything that money can buy, while experiencing an utter lack of inner peace.

Mindfulness training wakes us up from the trance of delusion. Mindfulness shifts us out of fantasy into seeing clearly. Without mindfulness, the deluded mind habitually grasps pleasant experience and rejects unpleasant ones. Harder to see, delusion ignores neutral experience. When things are neutral, we get bored and spaced out because we are so culturally conditioned to seek high levels of stimulation. So we miss the aliveness behind the neutral experience that make up much of our day. And yet when your attention grows, what gems neutral or dull becomes full with an unseen richness.

A second form of delusion is the delusion of denial that is deeper than inattention. Denial arises when we don’t believe what is actually in front of our eyes. On a personal level, we can deny problems at work, difficulties in our marriage, depression or addiction, as if denial will make them go away. With denial, we can start a love affair and actually believe that the romantic intoxication will last forever. We can think that the stock market will only go up and never go down.

Denial can also function collectively. Buddhist psychology describes how whole societies can be manipulated into violent upheaval by ignorance, racism, and fear mongering. The consumer advertising and television propaganda around us can deliberately foster anxiety and reinforce our political and economic delusions. Collective delusions can operate for years before we awaken to the cost, asking ourselves why thousand of people lost their lives or billions of dollars were spent in the name of “weapons of mass destruction.”

Kornfeld writes, “Sometimes we can cling to delusions even in the face of obvious danger. I like the story about a man who is driving down the highway when he hears a safety alert on the the radio: ‘Anyone driving north on Interstate 187 should use great caution! There is a car origin on the wrong side of the divided highway.’ The man glares through his windshield and mutters, ‘There’s not just one car driving the wrong way. There are hundreds of them’”

A third form of delusion is the misperception of reality. This is the deepest level of delusion. The author writes, “This level is the hardest to face because it threatens some of our most cherished assumptions. In a fundamental way, we are deluded about happiness, permanence, the nature of who we think we are. First, let’s take our ideas about happiness. We all understand how outer comforts can bring pleasure, ease, security. ‘Were these experiences not pleasant,’ says the Buddha, ‘we would not become entangled.’ And while we may well enjoy these forms of happiness, they are incomplete. A wise part of us knows the they alone do not bring fulfillment. Buddhist psychology encourages us to investigate the delusion of happiness.

Some of the richest and most privileged humans experience intractable suffering and heartbreak, while villagers who live in extremely poor conditions can be astonishingly happy. Happiness is within us. Studies of winners of state lotteries show that after receiving the money, the winners’ happiness increases for about two years and then it usually returns to its original level. If we were already quite happy, we return to that state. If we were depressed, fearful, or miserable, even after winning millions in the latter we will likely return to that state as well. Even more surprising is the research on those who become paralyzed, one of the worst fears many can imagine. After a few years paraplegics and quadriplegics also return to their normal state of happiness.

Prajnaparamita writes, How amazing. All living beings have the Buddha nature of awakening and freedom, yet they do not realize this.
Unknowingly they wander on the oceans of suffering for lifetimes. It is time to realize your own Buddha nature.

The Transformation of Desire Into Abundance

August 8, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. It begins with two quotes:

Majihima Nikaya:
Most people fail to see reality because of wanting. They are attached; they cling to material objects, to pleasures, to the things of this world. This very clinging is the source of suffering.

The Lotus Sutra:
You, the richest person in the world, have been laboring and struggling endlessly, not understanding that you already possess all that you seek.

Here is a thirteenth principle of Buddhist psychology:
There are both healthy desires and unhealthy desires. Know the difference. Then find freedom in their midst.

This all begins with THE WILL TO DO, which is a neutral mental state, an expression of life energy that arises with all activity. This will impacts both
UNHEALTHY DESIRE that Creates suffering based on greed and ignorance, which gives rise to possessiveness, fear, avarice, clinging.
HEALTHY DESIRE that creates happiness based on wisdom and compassion and gives rise to care, stewardship, generosity, integrity, spiritual growth
which leads to
FREEDOM AND ABUNDANCE BEYOND DESIRE, that bring playfulness and ease into the world of desire.

Kornfield writes, “Beginning meditators are shocked by the number of desires that can arise in one sitting. There are desires for a quiet mind, for our back pain to go away, for the bell that ends the sitting to ring. In between these desires are hundreds of other desires: hoping for a tasty lunch, for a phone call to our loved one, for a nap, for the rain to stop so we can go for a walk, for the sun’s warmth, for success when we go back to work.

With mindfulness we can witness the arising and passing of desires. We can look the body sensation, the feeling states, and the stories of desire to be graciously received with judgment. When desire is met mindfully, the energy of desire will often intensify for a time and try to overcome it. If we don’t rush to fulfill the desire, but simply stay present, the discomfort will eventually pass. Then we can notice what follows: usually a sense of ease, a peacefulness in the body and mind, until desire arises once more a short time later. We can see this when we feel restless or uncomfortable toward the end of a meditation. We feel the desire to move, accompanied by bodily tension and frustration. Fervently we hope the bell will ring (to end the meditation session). Then, as soon as it does, without our making a single movement, a dramatic change comes over us. The body relaxes and the tension disappears. The state of struggle is replaced by ease. Why is this so, since we have not done anything different? It’s simple, with the ringing of the bell, he desire has ended, and without desire, the mind and heart are at peace.”

The following Generosity Practice is offered:

Life is giving to life every moment of the day. Take several days to pay attention to this movement of endless generosity.

As you go about your daily rounds, first notice the gifts of the natural world. Notice the way the gift of sunlight streams behind everything. It feeds the plants we eat and gives us the oil from ancient forests that fuels our cars and lights our lamps at night. Notice too the rainfall and the rivers, the water that fixes itself to the blood in your veins, to the neighborhood insects and trees, to the interdependent collaborative in which we swim. Now notice how generously you are held and supported by the earth under your home and your feet, by the air you breathe, by warmth of the day and the coolness of the evening.

Now look at the unending care and generosity of humans around you: parents and children, teachers with students, healers and businesspeople, all serving one another. People stop at red lights so you are safe to go. They line up in the market, they share the parks, they operate in a thousand ways at the office. The shopkeeper and the mechanic, the bank teller and the cook, the healer and the engineer give themselves to their work, supporting others with countless hours of unspoken generosity and love. Of course there are also times of resentment and being overwhelmed, when people are disgruntled and disaffected. But most of the time, the people around you are giving: in conversation, in action, adding the generosity of their life energy to the flow of the whole. Spend a day or a week just noticing, naming, bowing to this stream of generosity everywhere.

Now you can deliberately choose to add to this stream of generosity, not as an obligation but as a way to be happy. Like all human beings, you already give in a myriad of ways. Delight in whatever you do. And discover you can let it grow. Try this practice: whenever a thought of giving enters your mind, do it. Whether it is a gift of money, time, helping care, or offering a possession, if you think of a generous act follow it. Sometimes we worry that we will regret our generous acts, we second-guess ourselves, and bit of doubt comes in. Don’t follow them. Instead look for any spontaneous thoughts of generosity and follow them. You will find that they inevitably make you happy. Try it.

Buddhist Personality Types

August 7, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART.

Here is a twelfth principle of Buddhist psychology:

The unhealthy patterns of our personality can be recognized and transformed into a healthy expression of our natural temperament.

Kornfield writes, “Psychology East and West acknowledges that children come into the world with distinct temperaments and styles.. Buddhist Psychology describes these as karmic tendencies. Western psychology might call this our genetic inheritance. But this is only one part of our personality. Later, our innate temperaments are shaped by conditioning from parents and environment. Through the interaction of inheritance and conditioning, nature and nurture, our personality is formed.

Buddhists break down personality types into three root temperaments: grasping, aversive, and deluded.

“The grasping or greed temperament is constructed around desire. It is experienced as a sense of seeking, of wanting more, and of addiction. It grasps after comfort and avoids disharmony in all situations. It desired fulfillment through pleasures finding what it likes in the world of the senses. From liking, it can move quickly to craving, passion, and sensuality. Out of the roots of grasping there arise associated states of vanity, willfulness, pride, self-centeredness, jealousy, avarice, deceit and addiction. The grasping temperament is associated with an even balance of the elements of earth, air, fire, and water.”

“The aversive temperament is constructed around judgment and rejection of experience. It has a disaffected quality that easily sees faults, and for this temperament, problems are apparent everywhere. It is critical, quickly displeased, quarrelsome, and disparaging of many things. Its quality of aversion can give rise to states of anger, vindictiveness, haughtiness, hatred, cruelty, aggression, and the struggle to control. There is a tight-fisted and rigid quality to this temperament. It is associated with the elements of fire and wind.”

“The deluded or confused temperament is constructed around uncertainty and confusion, People with this temperament experience not quite knowing what to do or how to relate to the world. They seek to establish ease by ignoring what is happening or through dullness or inaction. The deluded temperament gives rise to perplexity and worry, doubt, negligence, scattered thoughts, anxiety, and agitation. It is associated with the heaviness of earth and the movement of water.

Kornfield writes of the alchemy of transformation quoting the founder of modern chemistry, Antoine Lavoisier who said, “Nothing is lost, everything is transformed.” He could have been speaking of the heart and mind as easily as of chemical reactions. Transformation is possible, It is not the exception, it is the rule.

He writes, “ We can learn to transform the unhealthy states of our personality. They are not who we really are. While our problems don’t stop when we recognize and do not identify with them, we are no longer reactive and stuck. Their liberated energy brings us more fully alive.”

The grasping temperament, when transformed, gives rise to beauty and abundance. We take whatever situation we find ourselves in and bring beauty to it. We highlight the goodness and generosity of the people around us and we make our home and community places of harmony. As a greed type, I pay attention to the aesthetics of stone walls, cushions, and artwork to make it a beautiful place for practice. I also work to mentor and admire the people around me. I trust the benefits of a gracious workplace. I think of a fellow greed type, a physician who tells me how his whole surgical team performs better when he plays beautiful music in the operating room. In this way, our habitual tendencies can become gifts to those around us.

The aversive temperament, when transformed, gives rise to discriminating wisdom, non-contentiousness, and loving-kindness. Anger can be transformed into strength and clarity that unite the opposites. Some of the most important ideas come from the caring dissatisfaction of our aversive types. They don’t want to put up with mediocrity or lack of integrity, so they speak the truth about our problems and catalyze group energy. They are not afraid of difficulties; they know the value of working creatively with conflicts. As poet and businessman James Autry explains, “If you think managing conflict and diversity are problematic, then you haven’t thought through the problems of managing sameness. I’d far rather be faced with trying to achieve harmony and goodwill among people who are at one another’s throats than try to squeeze an ounce of innovation or creativity or risk out of a group full of photocopies of each other.”

When transformed, the deluded temperament gives rise to spaciousness equanimity, and understanding, called the wisdom of great questioning. The confused types contribute an innocence and beginner’s mind. They ask, “How does it feel to come to a meditation when you don’t know anything about meditation? Will you understand what’s going on? Will you feel safe? Why are we doing what we do—is it just from habit?” A Sufi story tells us, “A man who had studied much in the schools of wisdom finally died in the fullness of time and found himself at the Gates of Eternity. An angel of light approached him and said, ‘Go no further, O mortal, until you have proven to me your worthiness to enter in to Paradise? But the man answered, ‘Just a minute now—first of all, can you prove to me this is the real Heaven and not just the wishful fantasy of my disordered mind undergoing death: Before the angel could reply, a voice from inside the gates shouted, ‘Let him in—he is one of us!’”

The Ancient Unconscious

August 6, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. We need to consider both the individual unconscious and storehouse consciousness.

The individual unconscious contains memories, images, and beliefs about the nature of the world and ourselves. It also contains impulses such as fears, aggression, desires, insecurities, protectiveness, altruism, love, courage, and wisdom.

Kornfield writes, “The patterns of perception held by the individual unconscious are called sankharas. These stored patterns are like seeds, the results of past actions and perception. Every experience we have leaves an imprint, and this impression is stored as a seed until proper conditions arise for it to reemerge. These seeds hold the potential for the future. The more often we repeat a pattern, the stronger the seed. Even if we seem to forget an incident, its seeds and impressions remain in the unconscious and can reemerge to affect the press and shape future perceptions and events.

Storehouse consciousness is a term used in Buddhist psychology to describe the oceanic dimension of the unconscious where all memory, history, and potential are contained. Storehouse consciousness has both individual and universal dimensions. In the individual dimension, storehouse consciousness holds the patterns, the sankharas, of each person’s past. In the universal dimension it is a shared reservoir of collective memories, images, and desires. Carl Jung explored some aspects of storehouse conscious, using the term collective unconscious. More recently, neuroscientist Karl Pribram and physicist David Bohm compared consciousness to a hologram where the smallest part contains the information of the whole. The holographic record is the interpretation of the individual and universal aspects of store consciousness. Yogis, mystics, shamans of all cultures have explored and described this dimension of human experience.

In meditation, students experience the interplay of individual and universal unconscious. Practitioners may initially notice the spontaneous emergence of old memories, forgotten scenes from childhood, previously unrecognized impulses and feelings. Often meditators will first enter a hypnogogic, half-asleep state and experience dream-time images filled with jumbled scenes with unknown people, foreign objects, and strange places. Sometimes these coalesce into long, dream-like story lines that unfold in whole dramas.

As meditation deepens, unconscious patterns held in the body and mind can arise. We can become aware of past history, of beliefs and images that were previously unconscious. Then we can find ourselves confronted with powerful feelings of greed, rage, fear, or grief far beyond anything we have ever known or acknowledged, Sometimes they are connected with our personal history, and sometimes they arise as the more universal dimension of storehouse consciousness. When storehouse consciousness opens, we can spontaneously experience what Buddhist psychology calls the many planes of existence. These range from heavenly realms to animal realms to painful realms to woe. In the consciousness of the heavenly realms we may experience spontaneous uprising of sacred and religious imagery from any tradition or encounter a dozen forms of celestial pleasures. There are temples, saints, angels devas, and the sounds of choirs. Kornfield has spent joyful hours listening to what seemed like celestial music sung by luminous beings, and seen a hundred forms of sacred groves and temples. At other times when the realm of animals arose, he actually felt himself as a salmon, a crow, or an ant.

Here is an eleventh principle of Buddhist psychology:
There is a personal and a universal unconscious. Turning awareness to the unconscious brings understanding and freedom.

The following is from The Buddha in the Maijhima Nikaya:
When my concentrated mind was thus purified, steady, and attained to imperturbability, I directed my mind to the knowledge of recollection of past life. I recollected my manifold past life, that is to say, one birth, five births, ten, twenty fifty births, a thousand births, a hundred thousand births.

Kornfield writes, …”the Buddha did teach about past lives on many occasions. This teaching serves two important psychological functions. When the circumstances of suffering and pleasure in our life are attributed to our past lives and past deeds, anxiety about a capricious, chaotic fate is eased. This perspective can bring acceptance, ease, detachment, and grace in facing life’s difficulties. The second function of teachings about rebirth is to bring about greater care. We become careful with our actions out of concern for the results they may produce in future rebirths.

Past-life memories can be accessed through deliberate training, such as that outlined in meditation texts such as the Path of Purification. These texts are available on Amazon. HM purchased a text for his iPad.

And just as in today’s psychiatry, dreams and the unconscious are given attention.

The Storytelling Mind

August 5, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. Kornfield begins, “The first step for us in working with the storytelling mind is to notice the endless stream of thoughts and commentary that plays along with our experience. Almost everyone who sits down to meditate is startled by this process. Even though we try to focus our attention on our breath or body or a prayer, we are interrupted by a torrent of ideas, memories, plans. This is a key insight called ‘seeing the waterfall.’ One Buddhist meditation teacher says that the average person has seventeen thousand thoughts a day.

Just as the salivary glands secrete saliva, the mind secretes thoughts. The thoughts think themselves. This thought production is not bad: it’s simply what minds do. A cartoon I once saw depicts a car on a long desert highway. A roadside sign warns, ‘Your own tedious thoughts next 200 miles.’ Buddhist psychology directs us to investigate both the content of those thoughts and the process of thinking itself.

Here is a tenth principle of Buddhist psychology:
Thoughts are often one-sided and untrue. Learn to be mindful of thought instead of being lost in it.

Kornfield relates this story of Aaron who was born in Poland during World War II and he and his family had experienced bombings, deprivation, and refugee camps. Aaron remembered being a young boy whose image of religions and spirituality was a simple one, right out of the Bible. God was a powerful bearded man in the sky judging who was righteous and who was not. But it was this same God who had allowed the war, the killing, the devastation and the loss. Aaron had long concluded that God himself was untrustworthy. And in spite of his doctoral degree and years of psychotherapy this belief remained submerged in his mind, as powerful as ever.

Aaron laughed as he recognized these unconscious fears of religion. The old image of God began to dissolve even as he acknowledged it. But what would happen without this thought? I encouraged him to stay open. The next day he came in with arms outspread, saying, “Now I understand. This is God! The whole world of plants, animals, and humans—everything that is holy, and I am in its midst.” He had found the sacred in life, here, now. There is a term for what Aaron experienced, pantheism.

Kornfield notes that it is a great relief to discover that our stories do not fully define who we are or what is happening to us and tell the following event: One practitioner was on a summer retreat at a camp in the redwoods, She awoke in the middle of the night startled, heart pounding, because she heard a loud growl just outside. She was sure it was a bear close by, perhaps dangerous. Turning on a small flashlight, she looked around and waited fearfully for the unknown growler to make another noise. At first it was quiet. Then after a minute had passed, her stomach let out a loud grown. She realized the the bean soup from dinner was having its way with her digestive tract! The loud growl was herself.
Kornfield writes, “The key to wise thought is to sense the energy state behind the thought. If we pay attention, we will notice that certain thoughts are produced by fear and the small sense of self. With them will be clinging, rigidity, unworthiness, defensiveness, aggression, or anxiety. We can sense their effect on the heart and the body. When we notice this suffering we can relax, breathe, loosen the identification. With this awareness the mind will become more open and malleable. With this pause we return to our Buddha nature. Now we can think, imagine, and plan, but from a state of ease and benevolence. It’s that simple.

The following practice is offered regarding one-sided thoughts:
Choose an important area of your life where you have difficulty, or conflict. Bring to the mind the key beliefs, the thoughts you hold about the situation, the people, the institution, the circumstance: “They are…,”I am…,”It is…,” and so on. After you have brought the beliefs to mind, question them. Are they completely true? Are they one-sided? Who made up this story? What if some of the opposite was also true? What is your experience if you let these thoughts and beliefs go? Try letting them go, and rest in not knowing, or rest in loving-kindness. How does this affect your body and your mind? How does this affect the situation? How is it to live not so caught up in your own thoughts?

The River of Feelings

August 4, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. The following is a statement by former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas
At the Supreme Court level were we work, 90 percent of any decision is emotional. The rational part of us supplies the reasons for supporting our predilections.

Kornfield writes, “Buddhist psychology helps us distinguish two critical aspects of feelings. The first and most essential quality is called the primary feeling. According to this perspective, every moment of our sense experience has a feeling tone. Like valence in chemistry, each sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, or thought will have either a pleasant, painful, or neutral quality. Modern neuroscience confirms that everything that registers in the brain is assigned either a negative, positive, or neutral valence. The primary feeling tone comes first, Then, born out of this simple feeling tone, there arises a whole array of secondary feelings, all the emotions we are familiar with, from joy and anger to fear and delight.

‘Working with the primary feelings is a direct route to enlightenment,’ explained one of my Burmese teachers. The stream of primary feelings is always with us, but we often have the mistaken notion that life is not supposed to be this way. We secretly believe that if we can act just right, then our stream of feelings will always be pleasant and there will be no pain, no loss.

So when a painful experience arises we often try to get rid of it, and when a pleasant experience arises we try to grasp it. When a neutral experience arises we tend to ignore it. We’re always wanting the right (pleasant) feelings and trying to avoid the wrong (painful) ones. And when they are unpleasant we react endlessly, struggling to get it right.

As we become wiser we realize that fixing the flow of feelings doesn’t work. Primary feelings are simply feelings, and every day consists of thousands of pleasant, painful, and neutral moments, for you Condoleezza Rice, the Dalai Lama, MIck Jagger, and the Buddha alike. These feelings are not wrong or bad. They are the stream of life. Sylvia Boorstein, my colleague, writes, ‘What a relief it was for me to go to my first meditation retreat and hear people who seemed quite happy speak the truth so clearly—the First Noble Truth that Life is difficult and painful, just by its nature, not because we’re doing it wrong.’”

Here is the ninth principle of Buddhist psychology:
Wisdom knows what feelings are present without being lost in them.

The following is a statement from Pema Chodron:
It’s very helpful that the emotions we have, the negativity and the positivity, are exactly what we need to be fully human, fully awake, and fully alive.

Kornfield writes, “How do we work with our emotions from the perspective of Buddhist psychology? The mindfulness training of RAIN—recognition, acceptance, investigation, and non-identification—provides the basic alphabet of working with emotion. As we have seen, we have to first recognize what is present. How do our emotions manifest in our body? What do they feel like in the mind? When we feel caught by our experience, recognition of emotion is a critical first step. Are we confused, sad, angry, fearful, attached, or hopeful? Emotions can cluster together, so careful recognition may notice several at once. Often grief is present with our anger. There can be relief and happiness that come with letting go. Recognition requires a systematic and careful attention.”

The following practice is offered as a meditation on grief:

We can meditate alone or with a comforting friend. Take the time to create an atmosphere of support. When you are ready, begin by sensing your breath. Feel your breathing in the area of your chest. This can help you become present to what is within you. Take one hand and hold it gently on your heart as if you were holding a vulnerable human being. You are.

As you continue to breathe, bring to mind the loss or pain you are grieving. Let the story, the images, the feelings come naturally. Hold them gently. Take your time. Let the feelings come layer by layer, a little at a time.

Keep breathing softly, compassionately. Let whatever feelings are there—pain and tears, anger and love, fear and sorrow—come as they will. Touch them gently. Let them unravel out of your body and mind. Make space for any images that arise. Allow the whole story to unwind. Breathe and hold it all with tenderness and compassion. Kindness for it all, for you and for others.

The grief we carry is part of the grief of the world. Hold it gently. Let it be honored. You do not have to keep it in anymore. You can let go into the heart of compassion; you can weep.

Releasing the grief we carry is long, tear-filled process. Yet it follows the natural intelligence of the body and heart. Trust it, trust the unfolding. Along with meditation some of your grief will want to be written, to be cried out, to be sung, to be danced. Let the timeless wisdom within you carry you through grief to an open heart.

The Precious Human Body

August 3, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. The author begins:

“One of the magical experiences in Buddhist training is our growing ability to quiet the mind and sense the body and the world anew. Zen poets celebrate the crunch of snow on the winter path, spring blossoms covering their robes, wind among the pines, walking wet in the autumn mist, listening to the laughter of children. In the forest monasteries of Asia and on retreat in America practitioners eat unhurriedly in silence. With mindfulness we truly taste the pear, the cheddar, the orange, and the warm bread. We learn to walk unhurriedly again and notice the touch of breeze on our skin, the sound of birds, the rhythmic swinging of our gait, the ground beneath our feet. Like the solitary prisoner who after long months of aloneness has learned to savor the presence of a visiting ant, the smaller details of life appear vibrant and delightful.”

Continuing, “And now, in its own way, we can see how technological society ignores the wisdom of the body. In modern life the body becomes a machine for living, the subject of managed care, of steroids and plastic surgery. Our flesh is mortified in new forms as we sit in traffic jams, work in cramped cubicles and at school desks under artificial light, and distract ourselves with fast food and video games. Too many of our children are raised by TV instead of by the communal holding and storytelling that was our human heritage for thousands of years. Unfortunately, when we ignore the body, it makes itself known through the medium of various symptoms. Without a healthy physical connection we experience loss of vitality, chronic pain, and stress-related diseases. We suffer from ulcers and colitis, high blood pressure and strokes. We experience anorexia and obesity, depression and anxiety, road rage and addiction. Too many of us are lost like James Joyce’s character Mr. Duffy, who “lived a short distance from his body.” In New York, the Associated Press reported that the well-dressed body of a forty-one-year-old man who had died during the morning commute had ridden the crowded subways for a whole day before anyone noticed.

In the Buddhist way of understanding, our human body is considered exceedingly precious because it provides the necessary conditions to realize freedom and true happiness. We begin with systematic training of mindfulness of the body. In sitting and walking, in eating and moving, we cultivate mindfulness. We develop the ability to come into the life of the body. We notice suffering or well-being arising in our body. We discover how our body responds when our mind is clear or confused, when out heart is open or closed. We learn to hold the mystery of bodily life with respect.”

Here is the eighth principle of Buddhist psychology:
Mindfulness of the body allows us to live fully. It brings healing, wisdom, and freedom.

The story of Don follows. Don was a 41 year old man with metastatic brain cancer whose doctor had given up after treating him without success. The swelling of his head from the tumors was visible and it appeared that he had only a short while to live. The author took him for a special interview with Taungpulu Sayadaw, expecting the master to give him the practices for conscious death that Buddhist tradition believes to be important. But that was not his response at all

Taugpulu listed to Don’s history and then placed his hands on the tumors to offer direct healing. He stated that human birth is precious and that Don must do everything he could to heal himself. The two chanted for a time to create special healing water for Don to drink and then give him sacred prayers to recite and extensive healing visualizations. “You must try to heal yourself and live as long as possible because this human body is the most valuable source of spiritual learning of all forms of birth. Drink this water and practice these meditations and heal with your whole heart. And then only if this fails and you know you are dying is it time to switch to the death practices. Don’t die yet.” Although Don did not heal completely with Taungpulu’s encouragement he lived for years longer than the doctors predicted.

The following practice of walking meditation is offered:
Select a quiet place where you can walk comfortably back and forth, indoors or out, about ten to thirty places in length. Begin by standing at one end of the”walking path.” with your feet firmly planted on the ground. Let your hands rest easily wherever they are comfortable. Take a few deep breaths and then open you senses to see and feel the whole surroundings. After a minute, bring your attention back to focus on the body. Center yourself and feel how your body is standing on the earth. Feel the pressure on the bottoms of your feet and the other natural sensations of standing. Let yourself be present and alert.

Begin to walk a bit more slowly than usual. Let yourself walk with a sense of ease and dignity. Relax and let your walking be gracious and natural, as if you were a king or queen out for a royal stroll. Pay attention to your body, With each step feel the sensations of lifting your foot and leg off the earth. Then mindfully place your foot back down. Feel each step fully as you walk. When you reach the end of your path pause for a moment. Center yourself, carefully turn around, and pause again so that you can be aware of the first step as you walk back. You can experiment with the speed, walking at whatever pace keeps you most present.

Continue to walk back and forth with mindfulness for ten or twenty minutes or longer. As with the breath sitting, your attention will wander away any times. As you notice this, acknowledge softly where it went: wandering, thinking, hearing, planning. Then return to feel the next step. As with training a puppy, you will come back a thousand times. Whether you have been away for one second or for ten minutes, no matter. Simply acknowledge where you have been, relax, and come back to being alive here and now with the next step you take.

Use this walking meditation to calm and collect yourself and to live more wakefully in your body. Practice at home first. Then you can extend you mindful walking in an informal way who you go shopping, when you walk down the street or walk to or from you car. You can learn to enjoy walking for its own sake instead of being lost in planning and thinking, In this simple way, you can be truly present, bringing your body, heart, and mind together as you move through your life.

HM lives adjacent to a beautiful park. Just walking in nature, or walking and meditating fills him with contentment. Too many people have their faces stuck on their phones in the park. They would be much better off to leave their phones and walk, or walk and meditate.

The Liberating Power of Mindfulness

August 2, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. It begins with a statement from Buddha:
My friends, it is through the establishment of mindfulness that you can let go of grasping after past and future, overcome attachment and grief, abandon all cloning and anxiety, and awaken an unshakable freedom of heart, here now.

Kornfield writes “Mindfulness is attention. It is non-judging and respectful awareness. Unfortunately, much of the time we don’t attend in this way. Instead, we continually react, judging whether we like, dislike, or can ignore what is happening. We evaluate ourselves and others with a stream of expectation, commentary, and criticism.

Here is a seventh principle of Buddhist psychology:
Mindful attention to any experience is liberating. Mindfulness brings perspective, balance, and freedom.

The author notes that mindfulness is important in Western psychotherapy as well. Carl Rogers and other humanistic psychologists spoke of ‘unconditional positive regard’, and Gestalt psychologists spoke of ‘present centered awareness.’ Since 1980 nearly a thousand scientific papers have documented the effectiveness of mindfulness, often studying Western trainings that are based on a Buddhist approach. However, an important distinction to make is that while Western psychology has focused primarily on the mindfulness of the therapist, Buddhist psychology asserts that the very foundation of well-being is a systematic training of mindfulness in the student. This makes sense as in Buddhist psychology the person is his own analyst. With mindfulness understanding unfolds naturally. As Buddhist teacher Sharon Salzburg quipped one day, “It’s easy to teach. All you have to do is ask if they’re being mindful.”

The four transformative principles for mindful transformation are:
Investigation (body, feelings, mind, and dharma)

Recognition is the first principle of transformation. If someone were to ask us, “What is really happening now? We should pause and acknowledge the reality of our experience in the here and now.

Acceptance allows us to relax and open to the facts before us.

Investigation follows from recognition and acceptance. In recognition and acceptance we recognize our dilemma and accept the truth of the whole situation. Then we must investigate more fully. Whenever we are stuck, it is because we have not looked deeply enough into the nature of experience.

As we undertake investigation, we focus on the four critical areas of experience: body, feelings, mind, and dharma. Theses are called he Four Foundations of Mindfulness. They will be discussed in individually, in detail in upcoming Healthy Memory posts.

The following is a practice for establishing a daily meditation.
Select a regular time for practice that suits your schedule and temperament. Begin with sitting ten or twenty minutes at a time. Later you can sit longer or more frequently. Daily meditation can become like bathing or toothbrushing. It can bring a regular cleansing and calming to your heart and mind.

Gently close your eyes. Begin with the relaxation response concentrating on your breath. Sense your body and soften any obvious tension. Let go of any habitual thoughts or plans. This can be frustrating and difficult, so don’t get upset but gently brush this thoughts aside. Bring you attention to feel he sensations of your breathing. Take a few deep breaths to sense where you can feel he breath most easily—as coolness or tingling in the nostrils or throat, or as movement of the chest. or as rise and fall of the belly. Now let you breath be natural. Feel the sensations of each breath very carefully, relaxing into each breath as you feel it, noticing how the soft sensations of breaking come and go without effort.

You can mindfully acknowledge where you have gone with a soft word in the back of your mind, such as thinking, wandering, hearing, itching. After silently naming where your attention has been, relax and gently return to the feeling of the next breath. As your meditation develops, you can become more fully mindful of the places where your attention wanders. When strong feelings, emotions, sensations, or thought carry you away from the breath. receive them with the same mindful noticing you give to your breath. Acknowledge them and name them gently. When they pass, return to the breath. Or if you are just beginning or want to become steadier, one word of acknowledgement and a return to breath is fine. As you sit with the breath, let the breathing rhythms change naturally, allow them to be short, long, fast. slow, rough, or easy. Steady yourself by replacing into the breath. Who your breath becomes soft, let your attention become gentle and careful, as soft as the breath itself.

Over weeks and months of this practice you will gradually calm and focus yourself using the breath. There will be many cycles of this process, stormy days alternating with clear days. Just stay with it. As you do, you will find awareness of the breath helping to steady and quiet your whole body and mind.. From this initial mindfulness you can meet the other experiences that arise with balance. You will be centered amidst your ever-changing life.

From the Universal to the Personal

August 1, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. The subtitle to this chapter is “A Psychology of Paradox.”

Kornfield writes, “In the simplest language, we are spiritual beings incarnated into human form. We need to remember our zip code as well s our Buddha nature. Any psychology that denies our spiritual nature cannot help us fulfill our deepest potential. But, to be true and complete, a spiritual psychology must also honor our human incarnation in the body, in feelings, society, and the earth itself. We are creatures of this paradox, this interpretation of form and emptiness.

Here is a sixth principle of Buddhist psychology:
Our life has universal and personal nature. Both dimensions must be respected if we are to be happy and free.

Kornfield continues, “From the universal perspective, all things that are born eventually die. Death comes to our best friends and family members, sometimes even to young children. When we grieve, we join in the universal grieving for all those who have died. This is not tragedy; it is wisdom. From the universal perspective, life is all the more precious and beautiful because it is so fleeting.

Without a big picture, the inevitable changes in life can overwhelm us. But when we lose a job or win a promotion, end a marriage, have a grandchild, get sick or get well, it is not just personal. It is the dance of life. This broad perspective is especially important in the most extreme crises.”

But the personal nature is extremely important. We can’t pretend that we are too spiritual for any experience. Ajahn Chah said,”If we are angry, we must admit it, look at its causes, know its particulars. If we are sad or frightened or ashamed or needy, this is our human condition, the perfect place to practice.” He insisted we could not find freedom and enlightenment somewhere else, only here and now.”It is here, in the world of form. Only in form can we develop integrity, patience, generosity, truthfulness, dedication, compassion, the great heart of a Buddha.”

Kornfield, “If we fear living the life, we’re in, Buddhist psychology insists we explore our resistance, If we are caught in fear of failure, in past trauma or insecurity, engaging the world can be difficult for us. We need to make conscious whatever keeps us from living fully.”

Continuing, “Buddhist psychology believes that healing occurs as we learn to move from the realm of concepts to the world of direct experience. Our mental concepts and ideas about things, about people, objects, or feelings, are static and unchanging. But the reality of experience is an ever-changing river. Direct perception drops beneath the names of things or show us their ephemeral, mysterious nature. When we bring our attention to the direct perception of experience, we become more alive and free.”

Continuing further, “Even time is a concept. In reality we are always in the eternal present. The past is just a memory, the future just an image or thought. All our stories about past and future are only ideas, arising in the moment. Our modern culture is so tyrannized by goals, plans, and improvement schemes that we constantly live for the future. But as Aldous Huxley reminded us in his writings, ‘An idolatrous religion is one in which time is substituted for eternity. The idea of endless progress is the devil’s work, even today demanding human sacrifice on an enormous scale.’”

The following practice is offered for seeing from the universal perspective:

Buddhist psychology is filled with practices that shift to the universal perspective. In one practice, students contemplate the cycles of birth and death, imagining the possibility that they have been born many times. In this reflection you picture the circumstances of your current life as offering you a perfect chance to learn important and universal lessons. Then you sincerely ask yourself, what these lessons may be.

In the same way, you can bring a universal perspective to a problem, or to a situation where you are stuck in your life. Hold the difficult situation in your mind’s eye as if in front of you. Now picture yourself near death at the end of your life and reflect on how you see the problem. Then imagine how many other people have faced a similar problem. Look at it with the perspective of a hundred years from now. How does this difficulty appear? Finally, ask yourself how a universal perspective can bring a wise and heartfelt response to the difficulty you face.

The Mysterious Illusion of Self

July 31, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in an important book by Jack Kornfield, THE WISE HEART. The following is a quote from Master Hina-Tyanna Dhamma Loka:
We take things very personally. The more tightly we hold self, the more problem.
No self, well… (laughing)…no problem.

Here is a fifth principle of Buddhist psychology:
Our ideas of self are created by identification. The less we cling to ideas of self, the freer and happier we will be.

Kornfield writes, “From the smallest organisms through the complex life-forms to human beings, the creation of boundaries and the perception of separateness is universal. The gift of Buddhist psychology is to take us to the next step, the evolutionary capacity to see beyond the separate self. The functional self, even at its most healthy, is not who we are. And to the extent that we adults remain caught and identified with any of the earlier stages of development, our suffering is perpetuated. Unlike its Western counterpart, Buddhist psychology recognizes that the ordinary process of development does not end the story. From a functional self, it offers a path to the discovery of selflessness. It shows us how the sense of self is created moment by moment. Then it dissolves identification and shows the joyful openness which exists beyond the self.

In Buddhist Psychology, EGO—Common spiritual Use
Used to describe states of clinging and identification and the qualities of self-importance and self-centeredness that arise from the small sense of self. Derives from illusion of separation and the anxiety it creates.

EGO then feeds into Mental Health
Maturing of healthy mental qualities such a wisdom, confidence, composure, flexibility, love, integrity, insight, and generosity

Both EGO and MENTAL HEALTH read into the NON-SELF
Discovery that sense of self and separation is tentative, false, created by clinging and identification. Release from identification with self brings the highest mental health, freedom, compassion, and joy.

The following quote is from Time magazine, 2002:
After more than a century of looking for it, brain researchers have long since concluded that there is no conceivable place for a self to be located in the physical brain, and that it simply does not exist.

HM finds it useful to conceive of the concept of self. Our personal identification with the concept can be harmful, and that is the point of Buddhist teachings. But there may be situations where the concept might be useful or even necessary. Consider the example of legal documents.

The following practice is offered for the creation and dissolution of self:
It begins with a quote from Ajahn Chah:
To say there is a self is not true. To say there is no self is not true.
Then what is true?
The creation of self is a process that can be observed moment to moment. It arises when we identify with some part of our experience and call it “me” or “mine’: my body, my personality, my views, my things. We can become mindful of the creation and dissolution of the sense of self. We can see what it’s like when the identification with self is strong, when it is weak, when it is absent.

Choose a day to study the sense of self. Every half hour check in and notice how strong the sense of self is. At which times of day is it strongest? In what roles/situations? How does it feel when self is strong? How does the body feel? How do others respond to this strong sense of self? What would happen in the same situation without a strong identification with the self?

Notice when the clinging to self is mild or absent. Is it reduced when you relax or when you prepare to sleep? How is it when you take your role lightly? Let yourself experiment with caring but not taking things too personally. Can you operate well when the sense of self is not strong or even absent? Play with the sense of self. Notice what ideas, sensations, emotions you hold most strongly and identify with. Which ones do you easily and let go? How about if you revise it, release the strong ones and identify with the weak ones?

Become mindful of the comparing mind. See how the sense of self arises when we compare ourself with others. How does this form of self feel when it is grasped? How is it when it is absent? Then notice what happens when you are criticized. If someone insults or disparages you, notice the strength of the sense of self. With strong identification you can get anxious, angry, upset. Without much identification you can laugh.

Finally, try this. Pretend there is no self. Let all experience be like a movie or a dream, without grasping or taking it seriously. See how it lights the heart. Instead of being the star of your own movie, pretend you’re in the audience. Watch how all the players act, including “yourself.” Relax without a sense of self and rest in awareness. See how your life plays out without grasping.

The Colorings of Consciousness

July 30, 2020

The title of this post is the same as the title of a chapter in THE WISE HEART by Jack Kornfield. The chapter begins with the following quotes:

Consciousness is closed by the states that visit it.
— Buddha

Speak or act with a deluded mind and sorrow will follow
you As the wheel follows the ox who draws the cart Speak or act with a clear mind and happiness will follow you
As closely as your shadow, unshakable
— Dhammapada

Here is a fourth principle of Buddhist psychology:
Recognize the the mental states that fill consciousness. Shift from unhealthy states to healthy ones.

Kornfield writes “To help us understand the momentary colorings of consciousness, Buddhist psychology placed them in a three-part system. Described as “the all,” this system encompasses the whole of our human experience.

Part one includes all the impressions received through our sense doors. This list is short because our sense experience comprises only six things: sights, sounds, tastes, smells, touch/bodily perceptions, and thought/feelings. It’s worth noting that in the Buddhist system, the mind is considered to be the sixth sense door, receiving thoughts and feelings and intuitions just the way the eye receives sights and the ear receives sounds.

Part two is comprised of the discrete moments of consciousness that receive each sense experience. A fresh corpse also receives sense input, sunlight or breeze on the skin, but there is no consciousness to register it. For us to experience something, there must arise a moment of consciousness at the sense door. These six basic particles of consciousness are the individual moments of knowing called, respectively, eye, ear, tongue, nose, body, and mind consciousness.

With the six senses and their individual consciousnesses we construct our reality, just as an artist can paint the whole world using purple. The Buddha explains, “Monks, have you seen a masterwork or painting? That masterwork is designed by the mind together with the senses. Indeed, monks, the mind is more artistic and creative than any created masterpiece; it is the source of all human creativity.”

Kornfield continues, “With every sense impression and the consciousness that receives, there arise qualities of mind such as worry, pride, and excitement. They arise between the senses and consciousness, and add their color to experience. These mental qualities and what they bring to each experience are critical for our happiness.”
Common mental states such as memory, stability, feeling tone (pleasant or unpleasant), will, and life force

plus either

grasping, aversion, and delusion
give rise to
worry, envy, rigidity, agitation, greed, self-centeredness, hate, avarice, shamelessness, dullness, closed-mindedness, confusion, misperception, recklessness, and others,
HEALTHY STATES The 3 roots of
wisdom, love, and generosity
give rise to
mindfulness, confidence, graciousness, modesty, joy, insight, flexibility, clarity, equanimity, adaptability, kindness, and others

Lama Yeshe says, “To become your own psychologist you don’t have to learn some big philosophy. All you have to do is examine your own mind every day. You already examine material things every day—every morning you check out the food in your refrigeratory. Why not check out the state of your own mind? Investigating your own mind is much more important!”

The following Practice is offered for Recognizing Mental States:

Choose a day when you are having difficulties to mindfully observe your mental states like an anthropologist, without judgment or resistance. Usually several difficult states will appear together. They may include worry, agitation, anger, confusion, grasping, restlessness, and misperception.

Determine that three times during this day you have deemed difficult, you will carefully notice and track the course of your mental states. Without any judgment, notice which states are present, their level of intensity, how long they last, and how much you are caught up in them. If it is helpful, make notes and write them down. Do this again on two more such days. After three days, sense what effect the mindful acknowledgment of difficult states has had. If it has been illuminating or released you from their grip, continue the practice.

Next, in the same way, look for a day that you feel to be most positive, and start to mindfully observe the healthy states that are present. You may notice states of balance, clarity, flexibility, graciousness, love, wisdom, confidence, or joy. Notice the predominant states, their level of intensity, how long they last, and whether there is grasping of them. Again, if helpful, make notes. Do this again on two more such days.

After three days, sense the effect this mindful acknowledgment of healthy states has had. Recognize that you can be aware of and support these healthy states with your attention. Now that you have learned to do so, continue this practice.

Who Looks in the Mirror?

July 29, 2020

The title of this 4th post on The Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield is identical to the title of a chapter in that book. The subtitle of this chapter is The Nature of Consciousness.

Kornfield writes, “Ordinarily we take consciousness for granted, ignoring it as a fish ignores water. And so we focus endlessly on the contents of experience: what is happening in our body, feelings, and thoughts. Yet each time we move, listen, think, or perceive, consciousness receives all that occurs. Unless we grasp the nature and function of consciousness, it is impossible to live wisely.”

A third principle of Buddhist psychology: When we shift attention from experience to the spacious consciousness that knows, wisdom arrives.

Buddhist psychology posits that consciousness is the condition for life, and that the physical body interacts with consciousness but is not its source.

Kornfield writes, “Consciousness is also compared to a mirror. A mirror reflects all things, yet remains bright and shining, unchanged by whatever images, beautiful or terrible, may appear within it. A brief meditation can help you to understand. After you read the next three sentences look up from the book. Sit quietly and try to stop being aware. Don’t be conscious of any sounds, any sights, any sensations, or any thoughts. Try it. Immediately you will discover that you can’t do it. Sights, sounds, feelings, and thought continue to be known by consciousness. Sense how you cannot stop this conscious awareness. Notice how consciousness knows the whole variety of experiences without closing off to one favor of another. This is the the mirror-like nature of consciousness: reflective, luminous, untarnished, and peaceful.”

Consciousness, through Buddhist analysis, like light is found to have two dimensions. Just as light can be described as both a wave and a particle, consciousness has an unbound wave or sky-light nature and it has particular particle-like aspects. In its sky-like function, consciousness is unchanging, like the sky or a mirror. In its particle-like function, consciousness is momentary. A single state of consciousness arises together with each moment of experience and is flavored by that experience. With precise mindfulness training, meditators can experience this particle-like nature of consciousness arising and passing away like bubbles or grains of sand.

Kornfield continues, “When the momentary aspect of consciousness receives an experience, it is colored by the experience, carried by it. In one Buddhist text the particle-like quality of consciousness is described with 121 different flavors or states. There are joyful states of consciousness, fearful states, expanded and contracted ones, regretful states and loving ones. These states come with stories, feelings, perceptions, with beliefs and intentions. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh describes it this way: “The mind is like a television set with hundreds of channels. Which channel will you turn on?” Usually we are so focused on the dramatic story being told that we don’t notice that there is always consciousness that receives it.

Through mindfulness, we can learn to acknowledge which channel is playing. We can learn to change the channels, the stories and states, by recognizing that all states are simply appearances in consciousness. Most importantly, we can begin to understand the underlying nature of consciousness itself.”

It takes practice, but begin by relaxing and feeling your breath carefully (the relaxation response). this helps you focus and quiet your mind. Mindful, notice the stream of thought and sensations without reacting to them as a problem. This takes practice.

Special meditative circumstances are not required to return to awareness. Consider, a woman walking down the street thinks of a distant friend and for a moment forgets her errands, feeling eternity and her own small life passing through it. In an argument we stop, laugh, let go, and become silent. Each of these moments offers a taste of freedom.

Kornfield writes, “When we learn to rest in awareness, there’s both caring and silence. There is listening for what’s the next thing to do and awareness of all that’s happening, a big space and a connect feeling of love. When there is enough space, our whole being can both apprehend the situation and be at ease. We see the dance of life, we dance beautifully, yet we’re not caught in it. In any situation we can open up, relax, and return to the sky-like nature of consciousness.

Here is a practice the author offers. He calls this the river of sound.

Close your eyes and be at ease. Let your body be at rest and your breathing be natural. Begin to listen to the play of sounds around you. Notice those that are loud or soft, far and near. Notice how sounds arise and vanish on their own, leaving no trace. After you have listened for a few minutes, let yourself sense, feel, or imagine that your mind is not limited to your head. Sense that your mind is expanding to be open like the sky—clear, vast like space. Feel that your mind extends outward beyond the most distant sounds. Imagine there are no boundaries to your mind, no inside or outside. Let the awareness of your mind extend in every direction like the open sky.

Relax in the openness and just listen. Now every sound you hear—people, cars, wind, soft sounds—will arise and pass away like a cloud in the open space of your own mind. Let the sounds come and go, whether loud or soft, far or near, let them be clouds in the vast sky of your own awareness , appearing and disappearing without resistance. As you rest in this open awareness for a time, notice how thought and feeling also arise and vanish like sounds in the open space of mind. Let the thoughts and feelings come and go without struggle or resistance. Pleasant and unpleasant thoughts, pictures, words, joys, and sorrows—let them all come and go like clouds in the clear sky of mind.

Then, in this spacious awareness also notice how you experience the body. The mind is not in the body. The body sensations float and change in the open sky of mind. The breath breathes itself. It reveals itself as areas of hardens and softness, pressure and tingling, warm and cool sensation, all floating in the space of awareness.

Relax, rest in this openness, let sensations float and change. Slow thought and images, feelings and sounds to come and go like clouds in the clear, open space of awareness. As you do, pay attention to the consciousness itself. Notice how the open space of awareness is clear, transparent, timeless, and without conflict—allowing for all things but not limited by them. This is your own true nature. Rest in it. Trust it. It is home.

The reader should not regard this practice as a regimen to be strictly followed. Use it as a guide and adapt it to your own purposes. You might find that the last paragraph is sufficient.

Holding the World in Kindness

July 28, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of the second chapter in THE WISE HEART by Jack Kornfield. This is the third post on this book. The subtitle of this chapter is A Psychology of Kindness.

Alan Wallace, a leading Western teacher of Tibetan Buddhism puts this title into the following story: “Imagine walking along a sidewalk with your arms full of groceries, and someone roughly bumps into you so that you fall and your groceries are strewn over the ground. As you rise up from the puddle of broken eggs and tomato juice, you are ready to shout out,
‘You idiot! What’s wrong with you? Are you blind? But just before you can catch your breath to speak, you see that the person who bumped into you is actually blind. He, too, is sprawled in the spilled groceries, and your anger vanishes in an instant, to be replaced by sympathetic concern: ‘Are you hurt?’ Can I help you up?’ Our situation is like that. When you clearly realize that the source of disharmony and misery in the world is ignorance, we can open the door of wisdom and compassion.”

The author writes, “Buddhism teaches that we suffer not because we have sinned but because we are blind. Compassion is the natural response to this blindness; it arises whenever we see our human situation clearly. Buddhist texts describe compassion as the quivering of the heart in the face of pain, as the capacity to see our struggles with ‘kindly eyes.’ We need compassion, not anger, to help us be tender with our difficulties and not close off to them in fear. This is how healing takes place.”

A second principle of Buddhist psychology follows:
Compassion is our deepest nature. It arises from our interconnection with all things.

There is a neurological basis for compassion. In the 1980s, the Italian scientist Giacomo Rizzolitti and his colleagues discovered a class of brain cells called “mirror neurons.” Since that time extensive research has shown that through our mirror neurons, we actual feel the emotions, movements, and intentions of others. Researchers describe this natural empathy as part of the social brain, a neural circuitry that connects us intimately in every human encounter.

The author writes, “In Buddhist psychology, compassion is not a struggle or sacrifice. Within our body, compassion is natural and intuitive. We don’t think, “Oh, my poor toe or finger is hurt, maybe I should help it.’ As soon as it is injured, we instantly respond because it is a part of us. Through meditation we gradually open the boundaries of consciousness to compassion for all beings, as if they were part of our family. We learn that even when our compassion islets through fear and trauma, it can be reawakened. Faced with a crying child in a burning house, a hardened criminal is as likely as anyone else to take the risk of rescuing her. We all have moments when the pennies and beauty of our Buddha nature shines.”

There is a problem of self-hatred. The author recounts, “In 1989, at one of the first international Buddhist teacher meetings, we Western teachers brought up the enormous problem of unworthiness and self-criticism, shame and self-hatred, and how frequently they arise in Western students’ practice. The Dalai Lama and other Asian teachers were shocked. They could not comprehend the word self-hatred. It took the Dalai Lama ten minutes of conferring with Geshe Thupten Jinpa, his translator even to understand it. Then he turned and asked how many of us experienced this problem in ourselves and our students. He saw us all nod affirmatively. He seemed genuinely surprised. ‘But that’s a mistake,’ he said. ‘Every being is precious!’”

The author writes, “As children, many of us were taught courage in the form of the warrior or the explorer, bravely facing danger. In the Buddhist understanding, however, great courage is not demonstrated by aggression or ambition. Aggression and ambition are more often expressions of fear and delusion. The courageous heart is the one that is unafraid to open to the world. With compassion we come to trust our capacity to open to life without armoring. As the poet Rilke reminds us, ‘Ultimately it is on our vulnerability that we depend.’ This is not a poetic bur a living reality, demonstrated by our most beloved sages. Mahatma Gandhi had the courage to be jailed and beaten, to persevere through difficulties without giving in to bitterness and despair. His vulnerability became his strength.”

The author offers the following practice: A Meditation on Compassion

Here you combine a prepared inner intention with the visualization and the evocation of the feeling of compassion. Breathe softly and feel your body, your heartbeat, the life within you. Feel how you treasure your own life, how you guard yourself in the face of your sorrows. After some time bring to mind someone close to you whom you dearly love. Picture them and feel your natural caring for them. Notice how you hold them in your heart. Then let yourself be aware of their measure of sorrows, their suffering in life. Feel how your heart opens to wish them well, to extend comfort to share in they pain and meet it with compassion. This is the natural response of the heart. Inwardly decide these phrases:

May you be held in compassion.
May your pain and sorrow be eased.
May you be at peace.

Continue. You can modify practice phrases in way that makes them true to your heart’s intention.

After a few minutes, turn your compassion toward yourself and the measure of sorrows you carry, and recite the same phrase.

After a time, begin to extend compassion to others your know. Picture loved ones, one after another. Hold the image of each in your heart, and be aware of the persons difficulties and wish him or her well with the same phrase.

You can keep expanding your compassion to others you do not know, but who are in need of compassion.

Nobility Our Original Goodness

July 27, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of the first chapter in THE WISE HEART by Jack Kornfield.

It begins with a quote from the Tibetan Book of the Dead: O Nobly Born, O you of glorious origins, remember your radiant true nature, the essence of mind. Trust it. Return to it. It is home.

The following is a first principle of Buddhist psychology:
See the inner nobility and beauty of all human beings.

The author writes, “In these often cynical times, we might think of original goodness as merely an uplifting phrase, but through its lens we discover a radically different way of seeing and being: one whose time is to transform our world. This does not mean that we ignore the enormousness of people’s sorrow or that we make ourselves foolishly vulnerable to unstable and perhaps violent individuals. Indeed, to find the dignity in others, their suffering has to be acknowledged. Among the most central of all Buddhist psychological principles are the Four Noble Truths, which begin by acknowledging the inevitable suffering in human life. This truth, too, is hard to talk about in modern culture, where people are taught to avoid discomfort at any cost, where “the pursuit of happiness” has become “the right to happiness.” And yet when we are suffering it is so refreshing and helpful to have the truth of suffering acknowledged.”

He continues, “Buddhist teachings help us to face our individual suffering, from shame and depression to anxiety and grief. They address the collective suffering of the world and help us to work with the source of this sorrow: the forces of greed, hatred, and delusion in the human psyche. While tending to our suffering is critical, this does not eclipse our fundamental nobility.”

The author asks, “If we do not focus on human limits and pathology, what is the alternative? It is the belief that human freedom is possible under any circumstances. Buddhist teachings put it this way: “Just as the great oceans have but one taste, the taste of salt, so do all of the teachings of Buddha have but one taste, the taste of liberation.”

The author uses psychologist Viktor Frankl as an excellent example. He was the sole member of his family to survive the Nazi death camps. Nevertheless, in spite of this suffering—he found a path to healing. Frankl wrote, “We who have lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread, They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstance, to choose one’s own way.”

Frankl wrote, “Only to the extent that someone is living out this self-transcendence of human existence is he truly human or does he become his true self.  He becomes so, not by concerning himself with his self’s actualization, but by forgetting himself and giving himself, overlooking himself and focusing outward.”

Thomas Merton wrote, “The saints are what they are, not because their sanctity makes them admirable to others, but because the gift of sainthood makes it possible for them to admire everybody else.”

The following practice is offered for seeing the secret goodness:
“Wait for a day when you awaken in a fine mood, when your heart is open to the world. If such days are rare, choose the best you have. Before you start for work, set the clear intention that during the morning you will look for the inner nobility of three people. Carry that intention in your heart as you speak or work with them. Notice how this perception affects your interaction with them, how it affects your own heart, how it affects your work. Then choose five more days of your best moods, nd do this practice on each of these days.

As you become more naturally able to see the secret goodness, expand your practice. Add more days. Try practicing on days that are more stressful. Gradually include strangers and difficult people, until your heart learns to silently acknowledge and bless all whom you meet. Aim to see as many beings as you can with a silent loving respect. Go through the day as if you were the Dalai Lama undercover.

This is a very difficult practice, but one that could be equally rewarding. If you find this practice too difficult, do what HM does and try to reduce it to a more feasible practice.

Buddhist Psychology

July 26, 2020

A while back in a previous post a promise was made to learn more about Buddhist psychology. HM found an important book by Jack Kornfield titled The Wise Heart. The subtitle is A Guide to the Universal Teachings of Buddhist Psychology. The reader may ask, why Buddhist Psychology? The answer is that a good argument can be made that Buddha was the first psychologist. In his quest to find a solution to the sufferings of humanity he came to the conclusion that the mind is central to thinking, feeling, and mental health in general.

HM was amazed by what he found in this book. The study of cognition was more advanced in Buddhist psychology than HM found in his graduate studies for his doctorate. His amazement continued with further reading. This knowledge was especially valuable for being able to control emotions and to interact effectively with fellow human beings. Having beneficial interactions with our fellow humans is a central goal of Buddhism. Consequently, there will be many postings on this text.

Before proceeding there needs to be an understanding of Buddhism. There is an enormous range of Buddhist sects. It begins with the extremely ascetic Zen Buddhism, where participants spend hours pondering koans such as “What is the sound of one hand clapping? At the other end of the continuum are the extremely commercial versions readily found in Japan, which sells all sorts of future fortunes.

The version of interest here is the Tibetan Version led and practiced by the Dalai Lama. Someone asked him if they could be a Buddhist if they did not believe in reincarnation, a central tenet of Buddhism. The Dalai Lama answered of course. All that was needed was to meditate and to love and care for our fellow humans. It should be understood that even the first Buddha said that his sayings could be debated and refuted. Consequently, there is no dogma or required beliefs and practices, with the exception of those mentioned, for one to regard oneself as a Buddhist.

The goal of these posts is not to convince anyone to become a Buddhist. The posts will cover ideas that one can review with the goal of mind expansion, and practices, which can be beneficial to both physical and psychological health as well as for interpersonal relations. If the reader has religious or spiritual beliefs, there is no reason one cannot keep these beliefs unless those beliefs are so dogmatic as to preclude the discussion of new ideas.

The author, Jack Kornfield, is an internationally renowned meditation teacher and one of the leaders in introducing Buddhist practice and psychology to the West. After graduating with a degree in Asian studies from Dartmouth College, he joined the Peace Corps and later trained as a Buddhist monk. He is the cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre Massachusetts, and of the Split Rock Center in Northern California. He holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. Prior books include A Path with Heart; after the Ecstasy, the Laundry, and The Art of Forgiveness, Loving-kindness, and Peace.

There is much of value in this text. HM will do his best to capture the most important concepts in this book. This will take many posts. Still he shall not be able to do justice to this book.

What If…

July 3, 2020

It is interesting to speculate what would have developed if either a variant of Homo Sapiens had evolved or if Homo Sapiens had a different value system, so that other humans were valued more than earthly riches. Rather than exploring for riches they were exploring as anthropologists, but not as anthropologists with the bias that they were superior to the subjects they studied.

So they encountered this native species in the new world that was meaningfully embedded in a symbiotic relationship with nature. They valued this relationship and the natives who had settled this land valued the science and technology of these explorers. They worked together in a symbiotic relationship so that nature was enhanced rather than exploited. What a wonderful world that would be today.

It was realized that there was a very large agricultural potential in these new lands, but that human labor was required. There was a large source of this labor available in Africa. But rather than capturing and enslaving this source of labor it was recruited. Incentives were provided so that people would willingly move to this new land for a better life. And when they arrived here they found that it was indeed a better life.

The damages to our environment are being realized today and there is some concern whether it is too late to cope with these damages. The damages caused by slavery have continued to the present day.

This is an alternative future that could have been realized if we valued humans as humans and we valued humans more than riches and physical wealth.

Given the size of the universe and the possibility of multiple universes, this scenario might have been realized, possibly more than once.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Calls for Racial Justice Gained Steam with Empathy

June 30, 2020

The title of this piece is identical to the title of an article by Jamil Zaki in the Health & Science Section of the 23 June 2020 issue of The Washington Post. The subtitle asks the question, what kept people from supporting these movements before?

A key answer to this question comes from research on the perverse relationship between power and empathy. Empathy is people’s ability to share and understand each other’s experience. Empathy is not a hard-wired trait, but a skill . The right experiences, habits and practices can increase our empathic capacity, the same way we can get stronger by going to the gym. But there is s dark side to this idea: Other experiences can cause our empathy to atrophy, similar to a muscle we don’t use.

Power and privilege can sap our ability to understand others. In a series of studies, psychologist Michael Kraus and his colleagues measured people’s socio-economic status, as well as their ability to decipher emotions in pictures and in-person interactions. People higher in status were less accurate about other people’s feelings. Recent work has replicated these results and also found that high-status individuals make more errors when trying to take other people’s perspective.

Kraus and his colleagues have documented the empathic failures that come with privilege. Higher-status individuals display less interest when talking with strangers and report less concern for the suffering of others. These gaps play out in racial contexts as well. In another study, Kraus found that high-income white Americans overestimate racial economic equality more than black Americans or low -income white Americans.

These findings were bleak enough to make one journalist conclude, “power causes brain damage.” But powerful people are not incapable of empathy and should not be let off the hook from working at it. Like other skills, empathy takes practice, and people practice it when they are motivated to do so. Individuals who are relatively underprivileged realize they need others to succeed whereas people with power often deicide they can go it alone. Consistent with this idea, lower-status individuals pay more attention to faces, people and social cues than those with high status.

People without power often have to understand the perspective of high-power groups, which is the default in media, culture and work. By contrast, high-status individuals don’t have to understand others perspective to survive. This is one way privilege works its way into our minds. Not only are privileged people exempt from material struggles, they can comfortably ignore everyone else’s.

In some cases, powerful individuals have incentives not to understand. Genuinely peering into others’ worlds might force them into ugly realizations that they contribute to and benefit from injustice. To avoid that discomfort, they might turn down their empathy even further. In one series of studies, psychologists reminded members of high-power groups—such as white Americans—of their group’s responsibility for past violence—for instance, against Native Americans. Participants responded by dehumanizing victims to avoid guilt.

This is one irony of power: It expands the change a person could make while narrowing the aperture of whom they truly see. But this is not inevitable. When powerful people choose to empathize, they become more cooperative and more invested in justice. In one particularly relevant series of studies, Emile Bruneau and his colleagues asked members of low-power groups to “perspective give,” sharing their stories, and high-power individuals to perspective, paraphrasing what they’d heard. These dialogues increased connection and positive regard between groups—not by ignoring existing power structures but by reversing them.

In the past few weeks, many people have opened their eyes to suffering they had previously ignored. Much credit for this should go to activists and organizers who have made it harder to look away. Can increase in concern about racial injustice last? Empathy is a powerful psychological spark, but it often extinguishes quickly to support long-term change. As emotional stories leave our collective consciousness, people move on. Suffering continues, but those in power no longer see it.

Rather than depending on empathy to last, another strategy would be to leverage the care and energy of this moment into structural change—for instance, commitments to diversity leadership in education, business, and government. Rather than depending on people in power to listen more intently, change might come when we ensure the people who have previously been kept out of power have more chances to speak and be heard.

There are other posts on the work of Jamil Zaki.
Go to
and enter Zaki into the search block

Follow the Danes

June 28, 2020

When looking for a country to follow, perhaps the best candidate is Denmark. The Danes habitually rank near the top of the happiest societies on earth. Denmark also ranks near the top for forward-looking environmental policies. The people of Denmark have developed tax policies that encourage both lower energy use and the development of new, green technologies. Of course, both of these require people to contribute more money in the present in the form of taxes, but offer the potential for greater shared gains in years to come.

The Danes believe that learning empathy and compassion is as essential for future success and happiness as is learning math or literature. It’s view is backed by solid research. Danish schools often incorporate empathy lessons and exercises as part of their regular curriculum. By teaching children how to mentally put themselves in others’ shoes, to work cooperatively, and to support one another when needed, the students enter adulthood with a greater desire and ability to act compassionately.

Another way to use social emotions to foster a society’s long-term success is to frame policies or actions in ways that evoke moral emotions and concerns. To the degree that societal issues of pressing concern can be framed in moral terms, doing so will offer increased persuasive power as long as the people empowered to make choices share the same moral code. Sometimes making an issue seem morally relevant requires tailoring the message to a group’s existing moral tenets.

Is Giving Pleasurable?

June 27, 2020

This post is based on an important book by David DeStono titled Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.

To answer the question in the title of this post, one could simply ask people. It is not surprising that such research has provided a positive answer. But one can always ask are people answering in this way because it is perceived as the way to respond.

Researchers have addressed this question by looking deep into the brain using an MRI scanner. Economist William Harbaugh and his colleagues measured people’s brain responses as they engaged in two types of giving: mandatory versus volitional.

At the start of the session, Harbaugh gave each participant $100 while introducing them to a charitable organization focused on helping the hungry. He explained that while in the scanner, they’d see proposed transfers of part of their $100 to the charity’s account. Most times they’d be able to decide if they wanted the transaction to go through—a volitional decision. Other times it would happen automatically, like a mandatory tax. During each transaction the team focused their scans on reward centers in the brain, where increasing activity reflects increasing pleasure. Although the reward centers showed more activity with voluntary than mandatory giving, they registered pleasure with either type. Giving of any kind made people feel happier.

The pleasure giving brings need not be restricted to money. Eudaemonic behaviors—activities whose rewards stem from social connection, empathy, gratitude, and the like—activate the same neurological reward centers in the brain as does any type of pleasurable reward, but unlike activation of these centers due to selfish pleasure seeking, prosocial activation is associated with a greater depression and loneliness over time. Apparently as feelings of gratitude, compassion, and self-affirmation make us moe likely to give to others, than giving itself is experienced as pleasurable, not as effort.
This post is based on an important book by David DeStono titled Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.

To answer the question in the title of this post, one could simply ask people. It is not surprising that such research has provided a positive answer. But one can always ask are people answering in this way because it is perceived as the way to respond.

Researchers have addressed this question by looking deep into the brain using an MRI scanner. Economist William Harbaugh and his colleagues measured people’s brain responses as they engaged in two types of giving: mandatory versus volitional.

At the start of the session, Harbaugh gave each participant $100 while introducing them to a charitable organization focused on helping the hungry. He explained that while in the scanner, they’d see proposed transfers of part of their $100 to the charity’s account. Most times they’d be able to decide if they wanted the transaction to go through—a volitional decision. Other times it would happen automatically, like a mandatory tax. During each transaction the team focused their scans on reward centers in the brain, where increasing activity reflects increasing pleasure. Although the reward centers showed more activity with voluntary than mandatory giving, they registered pleasure with either type. Giving of any kind made people feel happier.

The pleasure giving brings need not be restricted to money. Eudaemonic behaviors—activities whose rewards stem from social connection, empathy, gratitude, and the like—activate the same neurological reward centers in the brain as does any type of pleasurable reward, but unlike activation of these centers due to selfish pleasure seeking, prosocial activation is associated with a greater depression and loneliness over time. Apparently as feelings of gratitude, compassion, and self-affirmation make us moe likely to give to others, than giving itself is experienced as pleasurable, not as effort.

What Does a Lonely Brain Look Like?

June 26, 2020

This post is based on an important book by David DeStono titled Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride.

In 2003 a team led by UCLA psychologist Naomi Eisenberger wanted to answer the question raised in the title of this post. They had an MRI scanner and needed to make someone feel lonely inside the scanner. So they adapted a typical playground slight to the virtual world. This game is known as cybermall, involves three “people” who appear on a computer screen: the true participant and two fake others (whom the true participant believes to be real.) Here are the rules of play: when the visual ball gets thrown to someone, that person has to pass it to one of the two other players. Social exclusion happens when two other players on the screen begin to thrown the ball only to each other. Although this might not appear to be a big deal, in experiment after experiment it has been shown to make those who are excluded feel alone and devalued. Only a computer monitor and two buttons are needed to play the game and people can do it alone inside the scanner.

Those who were excluded in the game showed increased activity in brain areas known to respond to physical pain. This means that loneliness feels physically painful. It actually hurts. But pain isn’t its worst effect. Loneliness ravages the mind and body over time in ways science is only now beginning to understand.

For decades Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo has been studying the detrimental effects of isolation, and these effects are alarming. When combined with findings showing the growing prevalence of loneliness, there is the distinct possibility of a looming public health crisis. Persistent loneliness produces double the mortality risk of obesity. It’s equivalent to smoking in terms of increasing the odds of an early death. It impairs immunity and increases inflammation, both of which are linked to maladies such as heart disease and diabetes. The chronic stress that accompanies loneliness also disrupts, elevates blood pressure, and causes depression over time.

DeStono writes “The link between loneliness and depression is so strong that feelings of isolation can cloud people’s mood even when their social lives improve. For example, those who have been lonely for a year but then regain social connections still show deleterious effects. The experience of that earlier loneliness continues to darken their mood and worldview for months. Put simply, loneliness shapes our future. It can even do so by spreading within social networks. Feeling isolated in the moment has been shown to increase people’s expectations that loneliness will continue. These expectations, in turn, tend to distort their views of others’ willingness to accept them, making them turn ever more inward. And as they turn inward, others with whom they might normally interact begin to feel lonely too.”

DeStono argues that individual achievement needs to be balanced with social connection. Using socially oriented emotions provides the answer. While directly helping us to achieve our personal goals, regularly practicing them will reduce our loneliness along the way by strengthening our ties to others, which will itself indirectly also bolster self-control. These emotions offer a double shot when it comes to obtaining success.

Self-affirmation and Perseverance

June 24, 2020

In the very first post in the series of posts on the book Emotional Success: The Power of Gratitude, Compassion, and Pride HM expressed his misgivings about the term pride. Pride has too many negative connotations, one being that it is the first of the seven deadly sins. It is not the best term. The best term is self-affirmation. It avoids all the negative connotations of pride.

The chapter on pride is titled Pride and Perseverance. It should have been titled self-affirmation and perseverance. A proud person might avoid certain situations because that person might feel that the outcome might hurt his pride. But self-affirmation avoids that situation. Self-affirmation motivates one to confront problems and challenges. Self-affirmation leads to perseverance and it is perseverance that leads to success.

It is wrong to tell anyone that all they need is the will to succeed. Success requires perseverance. It is also important that there are many factors involved in success, and one of those factors is luck. So it is a crime to argue that success is guaranteed.

But there is much research indicating that most all of us can accomplish much more than we think we can, that we have much more potential than we realize. There is much research proving this point. Enter “growth mindsets” into the search block at to read just some of this research. Growth mindsets foster perseverance.

In Dark Days, Kindness Can Help All of Us

June 16, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Steven Petrow in the Health & Science section of the 9 June 2020 issue of the Washington Post. As the title implies, especially in these current times kindness towards others, and ourselves, has been shown to help balance seesawing emotions, which we all have these days, and even possibly improve some health outcomes. Actually there is ample evidence that kindness is beneficial to both psychological and physiological health.

Petrol writes, “ even as it feels like darkness and struggle are ratcheting up, people are reaching out to others to help, even if they don’t dominate the news. For example, in Atlanta fraternity men from historically black colleges cleaned up neighborhood streets after a night of protest and violence. The day before the city’s mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said, “We are better than this.”

In Columbus, Ohio, the local newspaper reported, “Random acts of kindness break out amid protests, with individuals who’d just met on Facebook providing masks, protective eyewear ad first-aid kits to protestors.

In Cleveland, Ricky Smith, the founder of Random Acts of Kindness Everywhere brought his “message of positivity” to help “people think outside of themselves and help others.”

A man on the street in downtown Washington opened his door to dozens of marchers fleeing as riot police bore down firing chemicals. He provided a refuge through the night so they wouldn’t be arrested for violating curfew.

Petrol also writes of the “viral nature of kindness” Ramona DeFelice Long, who lives in Newark, De told him that when her mother, a former nurse, died of the novel coronavirus in April, she asked that “people perform an act of kindness to a nurse” in lieu of sending flowers. One person sent lunch to the emergency room unit in a small hospital and another sent a gift card to a struggling neighborhood medical professional with a family.

Rose Arce, a Latina documentarian, says she has been deeply affected by the recent turn of events, but she remains an advocate for “kindness, [which] is also about empathy and understanding, about recognizing the plight of the person next to you and offering emotional support and advocacy in a moment of anger or despair.” Kindness builds bridges, two-way bridges.

He writes of his conversations with Jamil Zaki, a Stanford University psychology professor who studies kindness. “There’s lots of evidence that our experiences, our choices, our habits, our practices go a long way to predict how empathetic we become. In researching his book, “The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World,” he says he learned that empathy or kindness is a skill that we can build. “Doing so is a crucial project for us, both as individuals and as a culture.” Now more so than ever.

Petrol notes, “Spreading kindness does not mean ignoring the need to protest injustice and cruelty and demand that the world be made fairer, better. Zaki and other experts say it can be another tool to help create a more just and loving and world, and to keep ourselves from being overcome by anger and despair.

There have been many healthymemory position Zaki and his book. Just enter
“Jamil Zaki” into the search block at

On the Meaning of Mindfulness

June 14, 2020

This is the ninth post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The title of this post is identical to the title of a section by Alan Wallace.

While mindfulness (sati) is often equated with bare attention [that is not correct; instead] bare attention corresponds much closely to the Pali term manaskira,which is commonly translated as “attention” or “mental engagement.” This refers to the initial split seconds of the bare cognizing of an object, before one begins to recognize, identify, and conceptualize, and in Buddhist accounts is not regarded as a wholesome mental factor. It is ethically neutral. The primary meaning of sati, on the other hand, is recollection, non-forgetfulness. This includes retrospective memory of things in the past, prospectively remembering to do something in the future, and present-centered recollection in the sense of maintaining unwavering attention to a present reality. The opposite of mindfulness is forgetfulness, so mindfulness applied to the breath, for instance, involves continuous, unwavering attention to the respiration. Mindfulness may be used to maintain awareness (manasikara), but nowhere do traditional Buddhist sources equate mindfulness with such attention…

When mindfulness is equated with “meta-attention,” or the monitoring of awareness it can easily lead to the misconception that the cultivation of mindfulness has nothing to do with ethics or with the cultivation of wholesome states of mind and the attenuation of unwholesome states. Nothing could be further from truth. In the Pali Abhidhamma, where mindfulness is listed as a wholesome mental factor that clearly distinguished wholesome from unwholesome mental states and behavior. And it is used to support wholesome states and counteract unwholesome states.

The cultivation of the ability to monitor awareness is valuable in many ways, and there’s a rapidly growing body of research on its benefits for both psychological and physiological disorders. But it’s incorrect to equate that with mindfulness, and an even greater error to think that’s all there is to vipassana (insight meditation designed to experientially realize key features of reality that liberate the mind from its afflictive tendencies). If that were the case, all the Buddha’s teaching on ethics, samadhi (focused, sustained attention and the meditative practices that are designed to develop attentional skills), and wisdom would be irrelevant. All too often, people who naively assume that monitoring attention is all there is to meditation reject the rest of Buddhism as “claptraptrap” and “mumbojumbo.” The essential teachings are dismissed rather than one’s own erroneous preconceptions

Monitoring awareness as calm, nonreactive awareness of one’ meditative object plays a crucial role in shamatha practice, which alleviates afflictive mental states as craving, aversion, dullness, agitation, and doubt….Monitoring awareness is not a complete practice, and by itself, it can be helpful and yet very limiting.

Monitoring awareness and developing conscious awareness were discussed in an earlier post “Experiencing Emotion.” This is a valuable, but sometimes overlooked, skill that deepens and extends the meaning of mindfulness.


June 13, 2020

This is the eighth post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman.

Dalai Lama (Translated.) The more skilled you are in being attentive, the greater you are able to watch out and catch it.

Ekman: Yes.

Dalai Lama: (Translated.) In the Buddhist meditation practices, one key method for cultivating this awareness is the development of mindfulness. The second one, which is thought to be more specific to the cultivation of this monitoring, is applying constant awareness to the actual processes of thought, just observing you mind and the thoughts as they arise, and being aware of what arises in the present.

Ekman: Let me be certain I understand the distinction. One practice deals with knowledge. Knowledge would be to understand that you should focus on the act, not the actor. Knowledge would be that it is dangerous to you and to the other person if you shift from removing the obstacle to punishing the person for having put the obstacle there. This is all knowledge. Now, a lot of people do not have that knowledge. We can teach knowledge much more easily than we can teach the second practice, which develops the skill of being aware of momentary experience.

Dalai Lama: (Translated.) True. Similarly, knowledge about the benefits of compassion can be taught.

Ekman: The knowledge can be taught. But learning the skill of monitoring awareness—of being in the moment, to be aware of the spark before the flame—is not easy. You need both. You need knowledge and you need skill. Knowledge you can even get just from reading a book. [Ekman adds here]. I came to realize later in our discussion that although you can learn about this type of knowledge from a book, for that knowledge to become so ingrained as to form the mental framework from which you see the world, it requires many, many hours of meditative practice.
This skill you cannot get from a book—you need to practice again and again. The two are different, but related matters that are essential for a balanced life.

Dalai Lama: (Translated.) Very true. The way the term “mindfulness is used in modern Buddhist literature is slightly different. The way it is used in the Tibetan tradition is the mindfulness of that knowledge, not the monitoring of awareness.

Ekman: Just knowledge?

Dalai Lama: (Translated.) Yes. The Sanskrit term is sati and the Tibetan term is drenpa, which literally mean “memory, recollection.” Mindfulness is bringing to the present of the awareness of things you have learned.

Ekman: But in order to do that, you have to have self-monitoring, a meta-consciousness. You need to be aware of the present. What is the term for developing that skill?

Jinpa: That is what Alan Wallace calls “meta-attention,” or monitoring awareness.

Meta-attention or monitoring awareness will be discussed in the next post titled,”On the Meaning of Mindfulness.


June 12, 2020

This is the seventh post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The title of this post is identical to the title of a section by Robert W. Levinson.

In our studies of dyadic interactions in intimate relationships, we have found that discussing areas of disagreement are wonderful stages for studying how people express and regulate their emotions. After all, it is really because humans are a social species that they have this profound need not to let their emotions run amok, but rather to adjust them to fit the demands of the situation and the comfort level of others.

We have found that married couples who are able to maintain physiological calm while discussing problems in their relationship are much more likely to have satisfying marriages and to stay together over time. Often in marriages, one partner assumes the role of the “thermostat,” monitoring the temperature of the interaction and applying corrections as needed. These corrections take the form of helping the partner to regulate his or her emotions (typically the woman assumes the role of thermostat in male-female relationships) and stay in an emotion comfort zone where ideas can be discussed productively without getting too hot (intense) or too cold (withdrawn).

Matthieu Ricard is an individual renown for his ability to serve as the thermostat in these interactions. Even when dealing with a very hostile and difficult partner, he had a calming effect that allowed the discussion to proceed in a constructive way. In the discussion of a difficult topic with another individual there was no mutual smiling. Matthieu remained very calm physiologically, but the other fellow showed a very fast heart rate and high blood pressure. Over the course of fifteen minutes his blood pressure and heart rate went down, he began to smile, and he said to me afterward, “There’s just something about him—I could not fight with him.

Ekman: What do you make of that? Could it be that when you encounter someone who has a highly cultivated emotional balance, and Matthieu is very well balanced emotionally, you feel that you have encountered someone unlike anyone you have known, and that they have a calming influence on you? How do you explain that?

Dalai Lama: (Translated.) One factor here is the well-known cliche that you cannot clap with only one hand. There is also a recognition in the Buddhist tradition—in fact, it is a quality attributable to Buddha—that without using weapons or powerful instruments, through the weapon of loving-kindness alone, he was able to subdue his foes. Loving-kindness and compassion has this natural capacity to subdue and tame. It would also depend upon the actual content of the conversation.

In the early 1970s, there was a British gentleman by the name of Felix Green. He was one of the very few Westerners who was able to visit Tibet and China—China many times, several times.

Jinpa: Green had a large amount of motion picture film footage of Tibet. He was a friend of Chou En-lai, the Chinese prime minister at the time. He was convinced that life under the Communist rule in Tibet was perfect, the people inside Tibet were happy, and everything was fine. He wanted to come and show the footage to His Holiness (the Dalai Lama). Before he met His Holiness, he was received by the Tibetan officials. The officials warned His Holiness that this person had believed the Communist view of Tibet, with only limited personal knowledge, with one-sided information about the situation. “Please be careful” and “He is dangerous,” they said. His Holiness met him over a period of three days. They started talking and looked at the footage, and by the time he left, Green had completely changed!

His Holiness ’s understanding of this phenomenon was that this was the power of truth. Green had incorporated a foregone conclusion, a particular perception, but as he came to recognize the actual situation, it changed him.

Ekman: Another way that people differ is in their susceptibility to changing a belief. There are people who are fanatical or zealous who are highly resistant to change.

Dalai Lama: True.

Experiencing Emotion

June 11, 2020

This is the sixth post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The following is taken from a section titled Experiencing Emotion.

Emotions can be triggered automatically in under a quarter of a second—very fast—totally opaque to consciousness.

Dalai Lama: (Translated.) In Buddhist psychology we make distinctions between the sensory level of conscious experience and what is referred to as the mental level—the level of thought, emotions, and so on. Emotions like fear are the emotions that are much more immediate and spontaneous, when they are operating at the sensory level or whether there is a role for the mental level of consciousness involved.

Ekman: The characteristics of an emotion are: There is a signal; an automatic, very quick appraisal of what is happening that gives rise to the impulse to become emotional; you have to develop a skill to get consciousness involved.

Still another characteristic is that emotions have a set of sensations. We are not always aware of those sensations. I have developed exercises for developing conscious awareness that you are becoming or are emotional. These are to be used not in place of, but in addition to meditation. One of them is an exercise to increase your sensitivity to the sensations in your body so that those sensations will ring a little bell, so that you will be aware of “getting”— you know the phrase?—“hot under the collar.” The most dramatic difference in the sensations is anger verses fear. In anger, blood goes to your hands. It is preparing you to hit. In fear, it goes to the large muscles in your legs.

Dalai Lama: So preparing to run.

Ekman: Yes, right. That does not mean you will run, or that you will hit. But evolution has prepared you in this way. And you can learn to be sensitive to the difference in how your body feels when you are afraid as compared to angry.

This section is especially relevant to HM. He has an anger problem. If he is going to be in a situation where he knows that he will likely become angry, he calls on his defenses to protect him from expressing this anger. But if, unexpectedly, he encounters a situation he becomes angry without being able to put up his defenses. This is embarrassing and can do serious harm to important relationships. The central problem here is that the anger explodes below the level of consciousness. He might not even be aware that he is making a fool of himself until somebody tells him he is becoming emotional. If he manages to become self aware, he can apologize and say that he lost his head.

Now he is looking into the exercises Ekman has developed for developing conscious awareness that you are becoming, or are, emotional. These would be used in addition to meditation. One of them is an exercise to increase sensitivity to the sensations in the body so that those sensations will ring a little bell, so one is aware of “getting” “hot under the collar.”

It occurs to HM that technology could also assist here. If sensors could be attached to the body to assist in becoming aware that anger is occurring, that would be quite helpful.

On Nirvana

June 10, 2020

This is the fifth post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The title is of a section written by Geshe Dorji Damdul a monk who serves as a translator and consultant on Tibetan scholarship for the Dalai Lama.

Westerners often misunderstand the Buddhist view of nirvana—the goal of becoming free of all emotions, the goal of enlightenment in Buddhism—and confuse it with a Buddhist view of how people should lead their lives, that they should never feel an emotion. Essentially, nirvana is a state of mind, in which one achieves freedom from pain and unsatisfactory nature and states (samsara).

Buddhism points to ignorance as the ultimate cause of all samsara. Of all ignorances, the worst ignorance is to conceive of the self and others as independent entities rather than understanding that we are all interdependent—in other terms, we all arise from “dependent origination.” It is this ignorance that triggers the evolution of all afflictive, or disturbing, emotions, which in turn give rises to negative actions, known as karma, and then ripens into manifest pain and agony. Thus, nirvana is not to be thought of as some external divine place, but the purified state of mind in which you are free of all negative emotions. [Ekman adds, “From a Western viewpoint, I would say that this state of mind allows you to be free of enacting emotions in a way that is harmful to yourself and others and that interferes with building cooperative relationships.]

Nirvana has four characteristic features: (1) a state of cessation of disturbing emotions from one’s mind; (2) absolute peace, a state of total tranquility of disturbing emotions; (3) exuberant satisfaction, which is free of all forms of dissatisfaction; and (4) definite emergence, when one will no longer relapse to an unenlightened state.

The Filter of Moods

June 9, 2020

This is the fourth post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The title of this post is the title of a section under the Chapter EAST AND WEST.

Ekman: Before we go much further, I think it is important to consider how emotions differ from moods. Unless we do so, we may not always know whether we are talking about emotions or moods as they are easily confused. I recall seven years ago, when I first met you and described this distinction, you told me it did not exist in the Tibetan view of mental states, and that you found it very useful. As I describe it in more detail, I hope you will continue to find it of interest.

I believe moods get us into a lot of trouble, even more so than some of our emotions. One difference between emotions and moods is a person’s understanding of what triggers each of them. He or she may not know what triggers an emotion when it first begins, but afterward can almost always easily figure it out. The person may not think he or should have become angry, but knows, at least afterward, what set it off. By contrast, when someone is in an irritable mood, he or she may never know what triggered it.

Dalai Lama: Would you not say that they can reinforce each other? Because of a bad mood, you would be much more prone to an explosion of particular emotions? For example, yesterday, your mood was not good. At that time, if your friend comes, you may lose your temper. But then, the next day, your mood is calm. Then, you see, yesterday’s appearance completely changes. So much depends on your own mental attitude, your outlook. According to our experience, that is clear.

Ekman: Yes. That’s one of the problems with moods.

Dalai Lama: Similarly, when you have a strong emotional experience, that can affect your mood.

Ekman: Yes, you are right on both. When you are in an apprehensive mood we are looking to be afraid. We are responding to the world with fear more than anything else, often misperceiving the world. It is as if we need to be afraid when we are in an apprehensive mood, just as we need to get angry when we are in an irritable mood.

Most scientists believe the moods typically occur for reasons that the person experiencing the mood does not understand—perhaps generated by neurohormonal changes not directly tied to an event in our environment. However, there are certain events that can trigger a mood: for example, if you are sleep-deprived, you are more likely to get either irritable or giddy and to laugh at things you would never laugh at.

Daila Lama: (Translated) Can the causal relation go the opposite way? Because you are in a very excited state, sleep does not come easily?

Ekman: (Laughs). Here I am speculating. And I do not want to distinguish when I’m talking on the basis of facts that have some scientific basis, when I’m taking on the basis of theory that all those who study emotion would agree with, from when I’m talking on the basis of just my own ideas. I may be right, but I don’ believe anyone else has yet considered the matter; the idea that when a person is sleep-deprived he or she may become giddy is my own speculation.

Science, Religion, and Truth

June 8, 2020

This is the third post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The title of this post is the title of a section under the Chapter EAST AND WEST.

Dalai Lama: In the past, the circumstances were such that science was applied toward material development, not toward mental things. In the West, traditionally, religion means Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Those are traditions of, mainly, faith. There is not much emphasis on investigation. Science demands trying to find the reality through investigation, through experiments. According to that, we can say that science has nothing to do with religious faith.

Ekman: No. it does not.

Dalai Lama: Science, in the past, was mainly involved with material development. So, you see, in that domain, science has nothing to do with religious faith.

Ekman: Yes. Yes.

Dalai Lama: In individual cases some scientists are very religious-minded. But their profession, their professional field, has nothing to do with religion. Now, I think, society is now facing a new crisis, or a new problem; it is mainly an emotional problem. Therefore, science begins to deal with that. So modern science—their exploration or their sort of interest or their concern not only matters, but also emotions. I think that is the way. Is it not?

Ekman: Yes. …Scientists are now beginning to look outside of Western thinking to see what they could learn and study scientifically that might be relevant. A growing number of scientists are interested in what we can learn from Buddhist thinking on this.

Dalai Lama: Now, “soft” science and “hard” science—what is the demarcation?

Ekman: It used to be a clearer demarcation. “Hard” sciences were the natural and biological sciences. “Soft” sciences were the social and behavioral sciences. Now cognitive neuroscience crosses the two, because it is using some very biological measures—brain measures, blood chemistry measures—to look at psychological phenomena.

I measure the movement of facial muscles—you cannot get harder science—but I do it to study emotions. We cannot see an emotion; the facial movement is just a display, but we can learn a lot if we can measure that display precisely. Many scientists today, certainly in cognitive neuroscience, and even in fields like emotion and memory in psychology, are using very objective methods, some of them biological, some of them not.
There is the greatest disregard among some scientists for findings on the basis of what people tell you in a questionnaire. I think what people tell you is very interesting; it may not be what they really think, or what they know may only be part of what they actually are and do, so it has limits, but it is not without merit. Studies that only use questionnaires are considered to be very “soft.”

Dalai Lama: In the west, there is not much of a tradition of investigation in religion. Whereas, in the nontraditional religions, in India, particularly in Buddhism, it was different—they experiment or investigated in the traditions.

The reality is that science is not all anti religious. Simply, it is trying to know the reality, to find out the reality through investigation, through experiment? Not by, with. That is not anti religion. Even the pope—the new pope is a very intelligent person, a very wonderful person—emphasizes that faith and reason must go together. Actually, he mentions he started this idea with some of his followers: If people have faith without reason, then people would not get the feeling of relevance of religion to their life, so reason must be there.

But only reason, no faith, like some scientists—they are great scientists, but mentally unhappy. (Laughs). So faith is also necessary. [Neuroscientist Clifford Saron, of the University of California-Davis Center for Mind and Brain], commented, “Scientists have faith in their method and hypothesis—it’s full of faith—just not necessarily faith in God. That is the way; I think that way. So even Christians are now compelled to realize the importance of reason. As far as Buddhism is concerned, there is no problem. We have the courage to say, True investigation is something. If our findings—through investigations, through experimentation—Buddhist ideas, then we have the liberty to reject old ideas. That is the Buddha’s own words.

Two Traditions

June 7, 2020

This is the second post based on EMOTIONAL AWARENESS an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The title of this post is the title of a section under the Chapter EAST AND WEST.

Ekman: You have written that we must train our minds to observe. Would you agree that both how we train our minds and how we can motivate people to want to undertake such training can be addressed scientifically?

Dalia Lama: (Translated). No one denies the existence of emotion, feeling, or mind. In daily life, we have emotion. It is there. Science and technology are concerned, basically, with physical comfort. When it comes to difficulties or problems with emotions, then, technology cannot do much. I think injecting some drugs, to reduce your anxiety, they are temporary. So now the time has come to explore the trouble, which is faced by our emotional mind, the method or means to tackle this wicked, mischievous nature of mind.

Ekman: Television teaches everyone the message, “If I become rich, I become famous, I’ll become very happy.” Very few people find out that that is untrue because most people do not get rich. (Daily Lama laughs.)
How can we reach people who want happiness but have been misled by television to think the path to it involves fame and riches and power? How do we convince them with the message that this is a false path? Can you think of any way that scientists can help correct this misperception?

Dalai Lama: For the last almost a hundred years, the whole concept of material development was that it would solve all our problems. The real problem is poverty. But we didn’t realize that solving poverty doesn’t provide inner peace. I can give one example—the Chinese case, I think Deng Xiapong felt once people are rich, then all problems reduce. He even extended it to no matter what method you adopt, the goal, so long you get rich, is okay. In the seventies he started, or developed, a movement. He said, It doesn’t matter what color the cat is as long as it catches mice. So, the implication, even through the wrong method [capitalism], you can get rich. (Laughs). So now today in China, they are getting richer—and more corruption. Poor people suffer more. And rich people, many are not happy.

Ekman: Yes.

Dalai Lama: For many people simply, they think if your are rich, you will have plenty of money and then they suppose all their problems are solved. Or if you have power, then no problem. That is not the case. Rich people, powerful people very famous people have been mentally very unhappy. It is obvious. Hatred and other emotions create more problems.

Ekman: Yes.
Dalai Lama: In the eighteenth century, nineteenth century, the early part of the twentieth century, no government says what is the importance of peace of mind. only say: economy, economy, economy/ Why” Because poverty is urgent. So, therefore, people everywhere, putting every effort, including our education, into eliminating poverty. No?

Ekman: Yes.

Dalai Lama: Also, on the television, all you see, is about improvement of the poverty: to improve the economy, prosperity. But, you see, people, at least those people, who are no longer much worried about their physical needs, now they are experiencing problems, but mainly at the mental level. That mental unrest brings a lot of suffering on humanity. Therefore, how we have to think or explore another field, and that is mental health. We cannot change mental health overnight.

Scientists have focused on what is relevant to material welfare. Now [scientists] begin to realize, there is possibility, to develop proper healthy mental attitudes, which [are of] benefit when we are facing our problems. You, as a scientist, you do that—and you should do that.


June 5, 2020

The title of this post is the title of an important book by the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. The subtitle is “Overcoming the Obstacles to Psychological Balance. The Dalai Lama is the leader of Buddhism in Tibet. In 1989 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and, in 2007 he as awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award given to a civilian by the U.S. government. Paul Ekman is a distinguished psychologist with special expertise in facial expressions and emotion. He has long known and worked with the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama spends a very large percentage of his time traveling the world lecturing, and joining in symposia. On a weekend in April 2006 he sat down with Ekman for eleven hours of intense discussion on 24 pages of questions about emotion and compassion that Ekman had written. Some additional questions emerged from that conversation. Two addition sessions were added that included additional experts were shared over a period of 15 months for a total of 39 hours. This book is a summary of those discussions.

This summary consists of statements by individual speakers that were followed by statements of other speakers. So these were interactive discussions that HM will summarize. Although the Dalai Lama is quite fluent in English, sometimes he would digress into Tibetan and the Tibetan would be translated for him. This appeared to happen when he was reviewing his meditations as those meditations are likely in Tibetan.

To the best of HM’s knowledge, the Dalai Lama is unique among religious leaders in that he does not require any beliefs for someone to call himself a Buddhist. Someone asked the Dalai Lama about a friend who wanted to be a Buddhist but who didn’t believe in reincarnation. This is rather strange as reincarnation plays a central role in the Buddhist religion. The Dalai Lama said that no beliefs were required. All that was needed was to be responsive to humankind and human suffering and to meditate. So only practices are required, not beliefs. Truth is not stated. Rather, one learns via meditation, but what is most important is brotherhood with fellow humans. The Dalai Lama encourages his priests and monks to pursue educations in science. He uses science to inform religion, in contrast to other religions who claim that science is wrong if it contraindicates beliefs.

The Dalai Lama notes, “And Buddha himself gives us liberty to investigate his own word, and he clearly stated, ‘My devotees, my devotees should not accept my word out of faith, or out of devotion, rather than investigation and experiment.’ That gives us liberty, you see, to investigate any object. Therefore, I thought a scientific approach and the Buddhist approach is not constrained by a literal reliance on the scripture] is the same. Investigate. Experiment. So, then I felt, you see, no problem.”

HM has spiritual needs and for a long time these needs were frustrated. He was unable to join any established church because when he engaged in critical thought he found inconsistencies and problems with their beliefs. He thought that God had given him a brain and wanted him to use it. But doing so led to the identification of problems with these beliefs and most religions regarded their beliefs as being central to their religion.

There is a wide range of practices observed by different sects of Buddhism. Some sects are highly commercial and sell futures and a variety of practices to gain income. Then there are Zen Buddhists who are highly contemplative and spend time pondering such koans as “what is the sound of one hand clapping?”

The Dalai Lama is the leader of Tibetan Buddhism who lives in exile in India. He shows how Buddha himself was not interested in beliefs. Rather the interest was in practices to make us into better human beings. And these practices are largely suggestive. You can adapt those you find helpful and ignore others. And the clergy is encouraged to pursue scientific education. So these Buddhists, rather than confronting science, use science to enhance their practices.

The Dalai Lama has worked with David Richardson in having his monks and priests participate in studies on meditation. HM learned from these discussions, that not only has the Dalai Lama contributed to research on meditation, but that there is a substantive amount of research on Buddhist psychology. Some of this research is already seeing clinical applications. HM will be spending future time reviewing this research.

Meditation to Build Vagal Tone

June 1, 2020

Dr. Fredrickson conducted a study with her students in her Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Laboratory. Study participants visited her lab at the University of North Carolina. Each had their vagal tone measured while they sat and relaxed for a few minutes. At the end of this initial laboratory testing session, participants were instructed how to logon to the study website each evening to record their emotions and social connections of the day. A few weeks later, by random assignment which participants would learn loving-kindness meditation and which were not were determined. All continued to monitor their day-to-day emotions and social connections using this website. Months later, weeks after the meditation workshop ended, one by one all participants were invited back to the lab, where their vagal tone was again measured under the same resting conditions as before.

Dr. Fredrickson writes, “In May 2010, I had the immense honor of presenting the results of this experiment directly to His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. A handful of scientists were invited to a private meeting to brief His Holiness on their latest discoveries about the effects of mind training. After briefly describing to His Holiness the functions of the vagus nerve and the concept of vagal tone, I shared what my team and I had discovered in this most recent study: that vagal tone—which is commonly taken to be as stable an attribute as your adult height—actually improves significantly with mind-training. Here is your evidence-based reason for hope: No matter what your biological capacity for love is today, you can bolster that capacity by next season.

For it was those study participants who had been assigned at random to learn loving-kindness meditation who changed the most. They devoted scarcely more than an hour of their time each week to the practice. Yet, within a matter of months, completely unbeknownst to them, their vagus nerves began to respond more readily to the rhythms of their breathing, emitting more of the healthy arrhythmia that is the fingerprint of high vagal tone. Breath by breath—loving moment by loving moment—their capacity for positivity resonance matured. Moreover, through painstaking statistical analyses, we pinpointed those who experienced the most frequent positivity resonance in connection with others showed the biggest increases in vagal tone. Love, literally made people healthier.”

Enter “Loving Kindness Meditation” into the search blot at to find more posts on this topic.

Vagal Tone

May 31, 2020

This post is based, in part, on content taken from Love 2.0 a book by Barbara L. Fredrickson. The key conduit connecting our brain to our body is our tenth cranial nerve, the vagus nerve. She writes, “It emerges from your brain stem deep within your skull ,and although it makes multiple stops at various internal organs, most significantly it connects the brain to the heart. Our heart rate shoots up when we feel insulted or threatened.” This registers the ancestral fight-or-flight response. And it’s the vagus nerve that eventually soothes the racing heart, by orchestrating (together with oxytocin) the equally ancestral calm-and-connect response.

Dr. Fredrickson continues, “Keeping in mind that love is connection, you should know that your vagus nerve is a biological asset that supports and coordinates your experiences of love. Completely outside your awareness, your vagus nerve stimulates tiny facial muscles that better enable you to make eye contact and synchronize your facial expressions with another person. It even adjusts the minuscule muscles of your middle ear so you can better track the other person’s voice against any background noise. In ten exquisitely subtle yet consequential ways, your vagus nerve increases the odds that the two of you will connect, upping your chances for positivity resonance.”

The strength of our vagus nerve, our biological aptitude for love, can be measured by measuring the heart rate in conjunction with the breathing rate. Sensors are placed on the lowest ribs measure our breathing rate as revealed by an expandable bellow that encircles the rib cage. This pattern is called vagal tone. Similar to muscle tone, the higher the vagal tone, the better. When your breathing in, a fast heart rate is an efficient heart rate. Each successive heartbeat during an inbreath circulates more freshly oxygenated blood throughout your brain and body. But when you’re breathing out, a fast heart rate is not that helpful because your supply of freshly oxygenated blood is waning. The vagus nerve steps in here by gently applying the brake on your heart when you exhale, slowing your heart rate down a small degree. In turn, your vagus nerve can gently let up on the brake while you inhale, letting your naturally high heart rate resume to grab all the oxygenated blood it can get, thus creating a subtle yet healthy pattern of cardiac arrhythmia: Your heart rate speeds up a bit when you inhale and slows down a bit when you exhale. This is the pattern that reflects your vagal tone, the strength or condition of your vagus nerve. It characterizes the nimbleness with which your primitive, non conscious brain holds the the reins of your galloping heart.

Unfortunately, the measurement of vagal tone is complicated and requires the use of a computer. Fortunately, there are proven measures we can use to increase our vagal tone without our having to measure it.

In the healthy memory post on Dr. Rediger’s book Cured he writes: “moments of ‘micro-connection” can deliver hits of the potent love cocktail, spool up the parasympathetic, and keep it fueled up and running. Our brains release a cocktail of hormones when we experience feelings of love and connection. How exactly this cocktail is mixed (which hormones specifically are dumped into your blood stream) depends on what kind of experience you’re having. Dr. Rediger writes, “Attraction, romantic love, platonic love, and social connection all have their own specific mixture, but most involve some combination of dopamine, testosterone, estrogen, vasopressin, and most importantly, oxytocin. Oxytocin, first isolated in new mothers nursing their babies, is often called “the love drug” because it’s both activated by, and helps to create connection, attraction, love, and bonding.” Beyond helping to make and deepen relationships, it has health benefits. Oxytocin is known to be a kind of anti-stress tonic, countering the effects of fight or flight and stress hormones. It is also both anti-inflammatory and parasympathetic in its effects.

The vagus nerve controls the release of the “love medicine” in our bodies. Vagus is Latin for wandering, and in line with its poetic name, the vagus wanders everywhere through your body. It exits the brain stem at the base of your skull dip in your neck. It runs quite close to the carotid artery.

Dr Fredrickson has found that “moments of ‘micro-connection” can deliver hits of the potent love cocktail, spool up the parasympathetic, and keep it fueled up and running. Our brains release a cocktail of hormones when we experience feelings of love and connection. The vagus nerve controls the release of the “love medicine” in our bodies. Vagus is Latin for wandering, and in line with its poetic name, the vagus wanders everywhere through your body. It exits the brain stem at the base of your skull dip in your neck. It runs quite close to the carotid artery. You can get as close as you can to your vagus nerve by pressing your finger to the pulse point on your neck. From the spot under your fingers, it shoots down to your heart and beyond, where it regulates heartbeat and dozens of other vital functions. Should you have any doubts about how deep and rapid the connection is between the mind and the body, the vagus is that literal link between the two—a thick, humming power line that runs from your brain to your gut.

Eighty% of the vagus nerve pulls information up into the brain. The other 20% sends information down into the body. This means that a great deal of sensory information is being collected for your brain and that decisions are then made in the brain and sent out all over the body. It’s a rapid, constantly flowing system (the network of glands that release hormones through all your body, and immune system to constantly adjust and respond to all the collected information.)


May 30, 2020

This post is based on content taken from Love 2.0 a book by Barbara L. Fredrickson. Oxytocin is commonly known as the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone.” Technically it is a neuropeptide acting not just within our bodies, but also within our brains.

Evidence of oxytocin’s power to shape social lives first surfaced in Europe, where laws permitted the use of a synthetic form of oxytocin, available as a nasal spray for investigational purposes. In one study 128 men from Zurich played what is called the trust game with genuine monetary outcomes. These men were assigned at random to the role of “investor” or “trustee.” Each participant was given an equivalent pot of starting funds. Investors made the first move. They could give some, all, or none of the allocated funds to the trustee. During the transfer of funds, the experimenter tripled their investment while letting the trustee know how much the investors had originally transferred. Trustees made the next move. They could give some, all, or none of their new allotment of funds (the investors tripled investment plus their own original allocation) back to investors. The structure of the game puts investors, but not trustees, at risk. If an investor chose to entrust the other guy with his investment, he risked receiving nothing in return if the trustee chose to selfishly keep the entire monetary gain for himself. But if the trustee was fair, they could each double their money.

Prior to playing this game, using a double-blind research, participants received either oxytocin or an inert placebo by nasal spray. The effect of this single intranasal blast of oxytocin on the outcome of the trust game was dramatic. The number of investors who trusted their entire allotment to their trustee more than doubled. Related research using this same trust game showed the the mere act of being entrusted with another person’s money raises the trustee’s naturally levels of oxytocin, and that the greater the trustee’s oxytocin rise, the more of his recent windfall he sacrificed back to the investor. So the neuropeptide oxytocin steers the actions of both the investor and the trustee, shaping both trust and reciprocity. These findings suggest that through synchronous oxytocin surges, trust and cooperation can quickly become mutual.

Since this original study was published in Nature in 2005, variations on it have abounded. We now know, for instance, that Oxytocin doesn’t simply make people more trusting with money, it also makes them far more trusting—a whopping 44% more trusting—with confidential information about themselves. It is interesting that this simple act of sharing an important secret from you life with someone you just met increases your naturally circulating levels of oxytocin, which in turn raises you confidence that you can trust that person to guard your privacy. Fortunately, additional research shows that oxytocin does not induce trust indiscriminately, making people gullible and open to exploitation. The effects of oxytocin on trust turn out to be quite sensitive to interpersonal cues, like those subtle signs that tip you off if another may be the gambling type of irresponsible in other ways. So if oxytocin spray were aerated through you workplace ventilation system, you’d still maintain your shrewd attunement to subtle signs that suggest whether someone is worthy of your trust.

Oxytocin serves as a lead character in the mammalian calm-and-connect response, a distinct cascade of brain and body responses best contrasted to the better known fight-or-flight response. Rather than avoid all new people out of fear and suspicion, oxytocin helps you pick up on cues that signal another person’s goodwill and guides you to approach them with your own. The author notes, “Because all people need social connections, not just to reproduce, but to survive and thrive in this world, work, oxytocin has been dubbed ‘the great facilitator of life.’”

The author writes, “It too, can jump the gap between people such that someone else’s oxytocin flow can trigger your own. A biochemical synchrony can then emerge that supports mutual engagement, care, and responsiveness.”

She continues, “The clearest evidence that oxytocin rises and falls in synchrony between people comes from studies of infants and their parents. When an infant and a parent—either mom or dad—interact, sometimes they are truly captivated by each other, and other times not. When an infant and parent do click, their coordinated motions and emotions show lots of mutual positive engagement. Picture moms or dads showering their baby with kisses, tickling their baby’s tiny fingers and toes, smiling at their baby, and speaking to him or her in that high-pitched, singsong tone that scientists call motherise. These parents are super attentive. As they tickle and coo they’re also closely track their baby’s face for signs that their delight is mutual. In step with their parent’s affectionate antics, these attentive babies babble, coo, smile and giggle. Positivity resonates back and forth between them. Micro-moments of love blossom. “

The author concludes, “It turns out that positive behavioral synchrony—the degree to which an infant and parent (through eye contact and affectionate touch) laugh, smile, and coo together—goes hand in hand with oxytocin synchrony. Researchers have measured oxytocin levels in the saliva of dads, moms, and infants both before and after a videotaped, face-to-face parent-infant interaction. For infant-parent pairs who show mutual positive engagement, oxytocin levels also come into sync. Without such engagement, however, no oxytocin synchrony emerges.
Positivity resonance, then, can be viewed as the doorway through which the exquisitely attuned biochemical tendencies of one generation influence those of the next generation to form lasting, often lifelong bonds.”

Brain Coupling

May 29, 2020

This post is based on content taken from Love 2.0 a book by Barbara L. Fredrickson. There were pervious healthy memory posts taken from her first book, Positivity. Neuroscientist Uri Hasson of Princeton University conducted research on the topic of brain coupling. Hasson and his team have found ways to measure multiple brains connecting through conversation. This is expensive research that requires the use of brain scanners. They use them with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). They recorded the story of one research participant along with the fMRI. Then they recorded the brain activity of a listener using the fMRI.

The brain scans were respectively time-locked. Coupling refers to the degree to which the brains lit up in synchrony with each other matched in both space and time. Of course, more than one study was conducted. But the body of research indicates that when we are listening to someone, our brain is coupling or responding in synchrony to the speaker.

So more than just sound waves and verbal information are being transferred. Our respective brains are coupled.

This is a short post, but the results are so profound that time should be devoted to pondering.

Evaluating the Evidence

February 4, 2020

The evidence being evaluated is the evidence found in the War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki. Saki writes, “At various times scientific texts confirmed that the sun revolved around the earth, atoms were the smallest particles in the universe, and the human soul could be located in the pineal gland. The scientific method allowed all of these “facts” to be overwritten as the truth came to light. It’s this dynamism, and the humility that must accompany it, that gives science its power. Science is not a set of facts, but a process of predicting, testing, and rethinking. It is alive.

Zaki continues, “In this book, I review scientific evidence about the forces that strengthen and weaken human empathy and kindness. Most of this evidence comes from the field of psychology. Over the past several years, some high-profile psychological findings have proven less robust than they had seemed. Similar doubts have arisen in political science, economics, biology, and medical research. We psychologists have used this as an opportunity to strengthen our methods, be more transparent about our research process, and clarify exactly what we do and do not know.”

So Zaki and his associates have rated their confidence in the findings presented i this book. They used a 1 to 5 scale where 1 is the weakest and 5 is the strongest. HM is presents all the findings rated 4 or 5, and occasionally findings rated 3 for which HM feels he can add in his opinion.

Claim 0.1: Empathy is related to kindness and prosociality. 5
Sometimes it might appear that science is documenting the obvious. Nevertheless this is necessary, as there frequently are times where the obvious is wrong.

Claim 0.2.: Evolution favors empathy, through selective advantages for prosocial organisms. 5

Claim 0.3: Empathic individuals excel professionally. 4

Claim 0.4: Empathic individuals experience greater subjective well-being. 4

Claim 0.5: It is easier to empathize with one person than many people. 4

Claim 0.6: “Mirroring” in the brain is associated with empathy. 5

Claim 1.1: IQ/intelligence can change with experience. 5

Claim 1.2: Empathy is, in part, genetically determined. 5 (Put emphasis on “in part.” Virtually everyone can increase their empathy)

Claim 1.3: Children’s environments impact their levels of empathy. 4

Claim 1.4: People who carry out necessary evils (such as giving bad news) experience reduced empathy. 4

Claim 2.1: We have the ability to control and regulate our emotions. 5

Claim 2.3: People empathize to help bolster their moral self-image. 4

Claim 2.4: When people think emphasizing will be painful, they avoid it. 4

Claim 2.6 When people believe empathy is a valued norm, they empathize more. 4

Claim 2.7: Purposely cultivating empathy alters the brain. 3
Zaki writes “Several well-conducted studies indicate that empathy and compassion training lead to corresponding changes in the brain. However, almost all of this work focuses on brain changes resulting from contemplative practice, such as loving-kindness meditation. (There are many healthy memory blog post on loving-kindness meditation). These studies should be augmented by additional research examining the neural effects of other empathy-building practices.

Claim 3.1: People naturally empathize more with member of their in-groups , as compared with outsiders. 5

Claim 3.2: We fail to empathize—and often experience antipathy—in competitive contexts. 5

Claim 3.3: Contact generally increases empathy for outsiders. 5

Claim 3.4: Contact can bolster empathy for outsiders amid conflict or competition. 5

Claim 4.1: Theater grows empathy. 3
Depending upon the nature of the play, theater provides a good opportunity to understand the feeling and thinking of others.

Claim 4.2: Literature grows empathy. 4

Claim 4.4 Narrative art can reduce intergroup conflict 4

Claim 5.1 Compassion fatigue is prevalent among caring professionals and detrimental to them. 5

Claim 5.2 Provider empathy has salutary consequences for patient outcomes. 5

Claim 5.4 Social support buffers against burnout. 5

Claim 5.5 Mindfulness reduces burnout for caregivers. 5

Claim 5.6 Mindfulness increases caregiver empathy. 4
(There are many healthy memory blog posts on both mindfulness and meditation)

Claim 6.1 Social norms influence our thoughts and actions. 5

Claim 6.2. People conform to perceived norms and often overestimate the prevalence of extreme positions. 5

Claim 6.3 Empathy begets empathy: Positive and empathic norms spread. 4

Claim 6.6 Social and Emotional Learning programs lead to many benefits (particularly for young children). 5
(There are healthy memory blog posts on social and emotional learning.)

Claim 7.2 Internet anonymity encourages cyberbullying. 4

Claim 7.3 Internet echo chambers encourage and reward extreme and emotional views. 4

Claim 7.4 Virtual reality experiences can decrease stereotyping and discrimination. 4

Claim 7.5: Virtual reality can build empathy. 4

Claim 7.6: Online communities can provide meaningful and helpful support to their members. 4

Claim 7.7: Giving to others helps the helper, making them happier or more fulfilled. 5

Zaki writes that if you want more information, you can find a spreadsheet containing the research that went into vetting each claim at

Working at Empathy, One Piece at a Time

February 3, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in the War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki. Zaki writes that this book focuses on rebuilding empathy when it’s eroded. By pinpointing different pieces of empathy researchers are able to diagnose what has gone wrong and helps them find the most effective solutions.

Callousness can come from thoughtlessness: we discount the suffering of a homeless person because we don’t consider their experiences. In this case, interventions might focus on mentalizing through perspective-taking exercises on virtual reality.

When faced with conflict, we might think a great deal about our enemies, but not care about their well-being. We might even hope for them to suffer. Contact, and especially friendships across group lines, can change that. For instance, burnout among medical professionals—often is the result of too much experience sharing. Contemplative techniques can help people shift themselves toward concern instead. Zaki concludes that in all these cases, understanding what to do with empathy requires first understanding exactly what it is.

Splits and Connections

February 2, 2020

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in the War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki. Zaki writes, “Experience sharing, mentalizing, and concern split apart in all sorts of interesting ways. For instance, mentalizing is most useful when we don’t share another’s experiences. To know why a fan of a team you don’t follow just climbed up a signpost, you must understand differences between their emotional landscape and yours. When we fail to understand each other, it’s often because we falsely assume our own knowledge or priorities will map onto someone else’s.”

Zaki continues, Empathic processes activate different brain systems and are useful at different moments. Poker and boxing require keen mentalizing—What does your opponent do? What is his next move?—but are ill-served by concern.” Saki notes that parenting can be the opposite. You might never understand why your toddler is upset, but you can still do what you can to help her. Zaki notes that people can also differ in their empathic landscapes. An emergency room physician probably feels great concern for her patients, but she cannot do her job if she is also taking on their pain. Although individuals with autism spectrum disorder sometimes struggle at mentalizing, they still share and care about others’ feelings. Psychopaths are just the opposite. They are perfectly able to tell what others feel but are unaffected by their pain.

Empathic pieces are also deeply intertwined. Sharing someone else’s emotion draws our attention to what they feel, and thinking about them reliably increases our concern for their well-being. All three empathic processes promote kindness, but in distinct ways. The primatologist Frans de Waal developed what he terms his “Russian Doll Model” of empathy. The primitive process of experience sharing is at the core—turning someone else’s pain into our own creates an impulse to stop it. Newer, more complex forms of empathy are layered on top of that, generating broader sorts of kindness. Through mentalizing, we develop a fine-grained picture of not just what someone else feels, but why they feel it, and—more important—what might make them feel better. This spurs a deeper concern, a response focused not only on our own discomfort but truly on someone else. The global kindness Peter Singer describes in The Expanding Circle is a further extension of concern—pointed not at any one individual, but at people as a whole.


February 1, 2020

This post is based on the War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki. Thinking is one of the three components of empathy, the other two being sharing and caring. Thinking is the active part of the theory of mind. We need to try to figure out what another person, or even species, is thinking about and planning to do. To answer these questions we need to think like a detective, gathering evidence from the behavior and situation to deduce how that individual feels. This cognitive piece of empathy is referred to as “mentalizing,” or explicitly considering someone else’s perspective. Mentalizing is like an everyday form of mind reading and it’s more sophisticated than experience sharing. It requires cognitive firepower that most, but not all, animals don’t have. So mentalizing arrived later in evolution. Though children pick up experience sharing early, it takes them a long time to sharpen their mentalizing skills.

Mentalizing is an extremely important skill, one that good salespeople need. And mentalizing is a skill, like many skills, that can be used for good or evil. Effective confidence men need to be highly skilled at mentalizing, so that they can con and defraud people.

HM saw a documentary film about Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple computer. When Jobs was in high school he made many visits to a Zen Buddhist Priest. Mindfulness, which obviously involves mentalizing, is an important part of Buddhism and their meditations. According to the documentary, Jobs was considering becoming a Buddhist priest. This priest wisely discouraged Jobs from pursuing this career.

HM thinks that Jobs was good at mentalizing, and that this might account for part of his success. Jobs was good at manipulating people to his own ends. His mentalizing skills helped him do this, but the result was that the lives and marriages of these people were ruined so that Jobs could pursue his ends. Jobs would travel to Japan to meditate in Buddhist monasteries, but he stayed at five star hotels during these visits.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


January 31, 2020

This post is based on the War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki. Empathy can be broken down into three components: sharing, thinking about, and caring about. Sharing involves sharing experiences, emotional feelings, and personal distress. Zaki elaborates using this anecdote. He asks us to imagine we’re a senior in college, walking with a close friend to his apartment. On our way in he checks his mailbox, then freezes. He says, “Holy shit. This is it.” You know what he means. You’ve seen him work relentlessly for three years in hope of getting into medical school, and into one program in particular. He’s talked with you maybe thirty times since applying, alternately anxious, helpful, or both. You rush upstairs, and he opens the envelope. His face contorts, and you lean forward, for a moment not knowing whether he’s ecstatic or upset. It becomes apparent that he is not crying happy tears.

Zaki continues, “As your friend collapses into a heap, you might frown, slum, and even tear up yourself. Your mood will probably plummet. This is what empathy researchers call experience sharing: vicariously taking on the emotions we observe in others. Experience sharing is widespread—people “catch” one another’s facial expressions, bodily stress, and moods, both negative and positive. Our brains respond to each other’s experiences and thoughts as if we were experiencing those states ourselves.

Experience sharing is the closest we come to dissolving the boundary between self and other. It is empathy’s leading edge. It is evolutionary ancient, occurring in monkeys, mice, and even geese. It comes online early in life: Infants mimic each other’s cries and take on their mothers’ distress. And it occurs at lightning speed. Seeing your friend grimace, you might mimic his face in a fraction of a second.”

Experience sharing provided the foundation of empathy science. Before the word “empathy” existed philosophers such as Adam Smith described “sympathy,” or “fellow feeling” in ways that tightly match experience sharing. For instance Smith writes that “by changing places in fancy with the sufferer…we come to either conceive or to be affected by what he feels.” Zaki summarizes, “From ‘emotion contagion’ in psychology to mirroring in neuroscience, experience sharing has long been the most famous piece of empathy.”


January 30, 2020

This post is based on the War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World by Jamil Zaki. Empathy can be broken down into three components: sharing, thinking about, and caring about. If your friend is in trouble and all you do is sit back, feel bad, and think about him, you are falling short as a friend. What you should be doing is wishing for him to feel better and come up with a plan for how you can get him there. Researchers call this “empathic concern,” or a motivation to improve someone else’s kind feelings. Saki writes that concern has received less attention from Western researchers than mentalizing or experience sharing, though that is changing now. Concern also hews tightly to centuries-old formulations of “compassion” in the Buddhist tradition. For instance koruna, or the desire to free others from suffering.

But Buddhists do not have a monopoly on caring. Christianity and other religions stress caring for the ill and those who are less fortunate. This is true even for agnostics and atheists. The notion is that there is a “commons.” According to the Wikipedia, “The commons is the cultural and natural resources accessible to all members of a society, including natural materials such as air, water, and a habitable earth. These resources are held in common, not owned privately. Commons can also be understood as natural resources that groups of people (communities, user groups) manage for individual and collective benefit. Characteristically, this involves a variety of informal norms and values (social practices) employed for a governance mechanism.[1] Commons can be also defined as a social practice of governing a resource not by state or market but by a community of users that self-governs the resource through institutions that it creates.”

This notion also goes beyond physical resources, and also needs to encompass the welfare of all human beings as well as other species. This is a pretty tall order. In fact, it is overwhelming. But it is important not to dismiss these problems, as they need to be addressed as well as they can be addressed. Some people devote their lives to this pursuit, but there is a need for most humans to pursue more or less normal lives, making donations, and making political considerations to address these needs.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The War for Kindness

January 29, 2020

The War for Kindness is the title of a new book by Jamil Zaki. The subtitle is Building Empathy in a Fractured World. Saki is a professor of psychology at Stanford University and the director of the Stanford Social Neurosciences Lab. Using tools from psychology and neuroscience, he and his colleagues examine how empathy works and how people can learn to empathize more effectively.

Zaki writes, “Most people understand empathy as more or less a feeling in itself—I feel your pain—but it’s more complicated than that. “Empathy” actually refers to several different ways we respond to each other. These include identifying what others feel (cognitive empathy), sharing their experiences (emotionally empathy), and wishing to improve their experiences (empathic concern).

Empathy’s most important role is to inspire kindness, which is our tendency to help each other, even at a cost to ourselves. Actually, kindness is one of the animal kingdom’s most vital survival skills. Newborns are little bundles of need, and remain mostly helpless for days (geese), months (kangaroos), or decades (us). If parents do not sacrifice to help them survive, they risk leaving no offspring to inherit their selfish nature.
When one creature shares another’s emotions, seeing pain feels like being in pain, and helping feels like being helped.

Zaki writes, “Empathic experience undergirds kind action; it’s a relationship far older than our species. A rat will freeze—a sign of anxiety—when its cage-mate is zapped with electric shocks. Thanks to that response, they also help each other, even giving up bits of chocolate to relieve the casemate’s distress. Mice, elephants, monkeys, and ravens all exhibit both empathy and kind behavior.”

Empathy took an evolutionary quantum leap in humans. Saki notes, “That’s a good thing for us, because physically we’re unremarkable. At the dawn of our species, we huddled together in groups of a few families. We had neither sharp teeth, nor wings, nor the strength of our ape cousins. Moreover, thirty thousand years ago, at least five other large-brained species shared the planet with us. But over millennia, we sapiens changed to make connecting easier. Our testerone levels dropped, our faces softened, and we became less aggressive. We developed larger eye whites than other primates, so we could easily better express emotion. Our brains developed to give us a more precise understanding of each other’s thoughts and feelings.”

We developed vast empathetic abilities as a result of this. We travel into the minds of not just friends and neighbors, but also enemies, strangers, and even imaginary people in films or novels. This helped us become the kindest species on Earth. Humans are world class collaborators helping each other far more than any other species. This has been, and still is, our secret weapon. We are not much to behold as individuals, but together we’re magnificent—the unbeatable super organisms who hunted wooly mammoths, built suspension bridges and took over the planet.

Peter Singer writes in his book The Expanding Circle that though we once cared for a narrow group of people—our kin, perhaps a few friends—over time, the diameter of our concern has expanded beyond tribe, town, and even nation. Singer continues, “The food we eat, the medicine we take, and the technology we use are sourced globally; our survival depends on countless people we will never meet. And we help people we will never know—through donations, votes, and the culture we create. We can learn intimate details about the lives of people half a world away and respond with compassion.”

Singer writes, “WE CAN, but we often don’t, and this raises an important truth about empathy. Our instincts evolved in a world where most of out encounters were, in every sense familiar. Small, tightly knit communities were empathy’s primordial soup, packed with ingredients that made caring easy.”

The modern world has made kindness harder. For the first time in 2007 more people lived in cities than outside of them. By 2050, two-thirds of our species will be urban, but we are increasingly isolated. In 1911, about 5% of British citizens lived alone; a century later that number was 31%. In the United States, ten times as many eighteen-to-thirty-four-year olds live alone now than in 1950—and in urban centers. In parts of Manhattan and Los Angeles, more than 90% live alone.

For the past four decades, psychologists have measured empathy using questionnaires. Empathy has dwindled steadily. The average person in 2009 was less empathic than 75% of people in 1979.

Decreases in empathy foster tribalism and tribalism creates still deeper problems. Look at the political wreckage that has occurred in America. Fifty years ago, Republicans and Democrats disagreed on policy over dinner, but still ate together. Now each side sees the other as stupid, evil, and dangerous. Trolls work tirelessly to provoke as much suffering on the other side as they can. Zaki concludes, “In this bizarre ecosystem, care doesn’t merely evaporate; it reverses.

The philosopher Jeremy Rifkin writes, “The most important question facing humanity is this: Can we reach global empathy in time to avoid the collapse of civilization and save the Earth?”

Whether this has to be is the question Zaki explores in this book.

Zaki believes that we can grow our empathy and become kinder as a result. He notes that there are decades of research suggesting that empathy is less like a fixed trait and more like a skill—something we can sharpen over time and adapt to the modern world. Saki explores this research in his book.

The Importance of How We Speak

November 29, 2019

The founder of American Psychology, William James, said the voice may drive, or at least be an equal partner, in the production of the speaker’s emotions. Recent research by Aron Sigma and his colleagues has demonstrated powerful psychological and physiological effects of how we say something. In research on cardiovascular risk factors, they found that talking in a loud, rapid voice like an angry person increases blood pressure, heart rate, and feelings of anger in the speaker, especially when matters of an emotional nature are being discussed. They note that the experience of anger, by itself, did not drive cardiovascular activity.

Our own anger builds when we describe loudly an anger-producing event. Recounting anger-producing past events in a soft and slow (anger-inconsistent) voice produces lower speaker blood pressure, heart rate, and feelings of anger than when describing events in a loud and fast (anger-consistent) voice. It is noted that applications of this research to mood control are easily implemented and require little, if any, training. To moderate the escalation of blood pressure, heart rate, and anger in emotionally turbulent situations, we should speak softly and slowly, avoiding the bellicose vocal style that is by itself sufficient to drive blood pressure and aggression.

Although this research has not been extended to include the speaker’s audience, the results can be anticipated. The speaker and audience are engaged in an emotional conflict modulated by the tone of the speaker’s voice. So far, only the matching (congruence) of speaker and audience speech rate and loudness, but not physiology, has been measured. However, our experience suggests that we respond to a loud, aggressive voice with cardiovascular and emotional reactions of our own, perhaps barking back an angry rejoinder that further increases the arousal of everyone. So, speaker and audience can become locked in an explosive, mutually reinforced escalation of physiology and emotions having unpleasant and perhaps grave consequences, including cardiovascular incident and violence. We need to control our voices at these critical times, so our physiology and behaviors will follow. If we lack this vocal control we should simply keep our mouths shut!

HM hopes that one’s speech did no adversely affect the holiday gathering. Although this post was too late for Thanksgiving, it should be remembered for Christmas and for New Year’s resolutions.

Happy Thanksgiving 2019

November 27, 2019

This is the day to be truly thankful for our memory. As readers of this blog should know, our memory is our vehicle for time travel. It stores information as a result of what is experienced. Then it takes this knowledge and projects it into the future for planning and deciding how to respond to various events. It is the source of our creativity. It is also the place where our emotions are found along with our relations to our fellow human beings.

This is why it is important to use and treat our memories properly. We need to adopt growth mindsets where we continue to learn throughout our lifetimes. This provides not only for a fulfilling and rewarding life, but it also decreases the risks of Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Meditation is also important for learning how to control and use our precious attention. Our effective use of attention is critical for cognitive growth. Mindfulness is important for effective relationships with our fellow human beings.

All these topics are continuing themes in the healthymemory blog along with articles on important topics on which we need to be informed.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mister Rogers

November 26, 2019

A new movie has put Fred Rogers back into the news, along with an article by D.L. Mayfield titled Mister Rogers wasn’t just nice: He also wanted to take down consumerism, in the Metro Section of the 23 November 2019 issue of the Washington Post. According to Rogers’ biography, The Good Neighbor, by Maxwell King, Hallmark asked Rogers to collaborate in decorating their flagship store in midtown Manhattan for Christmastime. Rogers and a friend traveled to New York to check out the scene. Other celebrities and influencers had created garishly festive and over-the-top displays that Rogers found offensive. He wanted to go a different route.

Rogers returned home and developed his design plan. The result was this: a Norfolk Island pine tree, the height of a 3- or 4-foot-tall child. There were no ornaments or decorations, just a simple green tree, planted in a clear Lucite cube so that onlookers could see the roots of the tree. In front of it there was a plaque that simply said, “I like you just the way you are.”

Mayfield writes, “I think about that little tree,and how differently the mind of a pastor and educator and psychologist (for Rogers was all three) works from those of marketeers. At first blush it seems beautiful, because it is: centered on a child, tree just their height, reinforcing the message Rogers most desperately wanted his young neighbors to hear. Working to combat shame, isolation, trauma; working to help build resilience in the lives of kids he could never hope to reach one by one. By creating a tree reminiscent of “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” he reminds us that what is small is good, recognizing that even little trees need good roots to grow tall and strong.”

Rogers wrote, “Until television became such a tool for selling, it was such a fabulous medium for educating. That’s what I had always hoped it would be.” Mayfield continues, “I believe he was angry at how most television companies sponsored the shows treated children, how it dehumanized them, pandered to them and ultimately trained them to become consumers of products they did not need.”

HM remembers how optimistic he was about the potential of the internet when the blog began in October 2009. He saw the potential for building healthy memories through cognitive growth and healthy interactions among internet users. That theme has changed to how the internet has developed to boost consumerism, create divisions among different groups of people, and its use in warfare.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Flexible Optimism

November 24, 2019

This the tenth post in the series of posts based on Dr. Martin Seligman’s important book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. This is also the last post planned for this book. Seligman waxes philosophically in this final chapter titled “Flexible Optimism.”

As was mentioned previously in this book, depression has been on the rise since World War II. Today young people are ten times likelier to suffer severe depression than their grandparents were, and depression takes a particularly heavy toll among women and the young. There is no sign that this epidemic of depression is decreasing.

One of the reasons Seligman offers for this problem he terms the waxing of the self. He writes that the society we live in exalts the self. It takes the pleasures and pains, the successes and failures of the individual with unprecedented seriousness. Our wealth and our technology have culminated in a self that chooses, that feels pleasure and pain, that dictates action, that optimizes or satisfices. He writes that we are now a culture of maximal selves. We freely choose among an abundance of customized goods and services and reach beyond them to grasp more exquisite freedoms.

The second reason Seligman offers for this problem is what he terms “The Waning of the Commons.” He writes that the life committed to nothing larger than itself is a meager life. Human beings require a context of meaning and hope. We once had ample context, and when we encountered failure, we could could pause and take our rest in that setting—our spiritual furniture—and revived our sense of who were were. He calls this larger setting the commons.

HM shares Seligman’s concerns. However, he makes no mention of the means of addressing both these concerns. There is no mention of meditation or mindfulness anywhere in the book. And they provide the best means of addressing these concerns. There are many healthy memory posts on these topics. Use the search block at to find them.

There are ample data indicating how meditation aids individual health. HM would like to see data comparing any differences in pessimism between people who meditate daily and a comparable sample that does not meditate. And the practice of mindfulness is one of the best, if not the best of facilitation positive interactions and concerns among individuals.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Learning to Argue with Yourself

November 23, 2019

This the ninth post in the series of posts based on Dr. Martin Seligman’s important book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. As we all likely have argued with others, to be optimistic we also need to argue with ourselves. There are four important ways to make disputations convincing:


The best way of disputing a negative belief is to show that it is factually incorrect. Fortunately, much of the time we will have facts on our side, since pessimistic reactions to adversity are typically overreactions. So we adopt the role of detective and ask, “What is the evidence for this belief?”

Seligman notes that it is important to see the difference between this approach and the so-called “power of positive thinking.” Positive thinking often involved trying to believe upbeat statements such as “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better” in the absence of evidence, or even in the face of contrary evidence. Many educated people, trained in skeptical thinking, cannot abide this kind of boosterism. In contrast, learned optimism is about accuracy.

Research has shown that merely repeating positive statements to yourself does not raise mood or achievement very much, if at all. It is how you cope with negative statements that has an effect. Usually negative beliefs that follow adversity are inaccurate. Most people catastrophize: From all the potential causes, they select the one with the direct implications. One of your most effective techniques in disputation will be to search for evidence pointing to the distortions in you catastrophic explanations. Most of the time you will have reality on your side. Seligman writes, “Learned optimism works not through an unjustifiable positivity about the world but through the power of ‘non-negative’ thinking.”

Rarely nothing that happens to you has just one cause; most events have many causes. Should you do poorly on a test, all of the following might have contributed: how hard the test was, how much you studied, how fair the professor is, how the other students did, how tired you were and so forth. Pessimists typically latch onto the worst of all the possible causes—the most permanent, pervasive, and personal ones.

Disputation usually has reality on its side. Since there are multiple causes, why latch onto the most insidious one? Rather, latch onto the most innocuous one. Focus on the changeable (not enough time spent studying), the specific (this particular exam was uncharacteristically hard), and the non-personal (the professor graded unfairly) causes. You may have to push hard at generating alternative beliefs, latching onto possibilities you are not fully convinced are true. Remember that much pessimistic thinking consists of just the reverse.

Of course, facts won’t always be on your side. The negative belief you hold about yourself may be correct. In this situation, the technique to use is decatastrophizing. You ask yourself, even if this belief is correct, what are its implications? How likely, you should ask yourself are the awful implications? Once you ask if the implications are really that awful, repeat the search for evidence.

Sometimes the consequence of holding a belief matter more than the truth of the belief. Is the belief destructive? Some people get very upset when the world shows itself not to be fair. We can all sympathize with that sentiment, but the belief that the world should be fair may cause more grief than it’s worth. Sometimes it is very useful to get on with your day, without taking the time to examine the accuracy of your beliefs and then disputing them. Here the example Seligman provides is a technician doing bomb demolition. He might think, “This could go off and I might be killed”—with the result that his hands shake. In this case Seligman recommends distraction over disputation. Whenever you have to perform now, you will find distraction the tool of choice.

Another tactic is to detail all the ways you can change the situation in the future. Even if the belief is true now, is the situation changeable? If so, how can you go about changing it?

How to Be Optimistic

November 22, 2019

This the eighth post in the series of posts based on Dr. Martin Seligman’s important book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. This post is taken from the chapter titled “The Optimistic Life.” The first question is when to deploy optimism? There are times not to use the techniques that are about to be discussed.
*If your goal is to plan for a risky and uncertain future, do not use optimism
*If your goal is to counsel others whose future is dim, do not use optimism initially.
*If you want to appear sympathetic to the troubles of others, do not begin with optimism, although using it later, once confidence and empathy are established, may help

The model developed for being optimistic is known as the ABC model as was developed by the pioneering psychologist, Albert Ellis. ABC is an acronym for

Consider the following examples:

Adversity: My husband was supposed to give the kids they bath and put them to bed, but when I got home from my meeting they were all glued to the TV.

Belief: Why can’t he do what I ask him? is it such a hard thing to given them their bath and put them to bed? Now I’m going to look like the heavy when I break up their little party.

Consequences: I was really angry with Jack and started yelling without first giving him a chance to explain. I walked into the room and snapped off the set without even a “hello” first. I looked like the heavy.

Adversity: I decided to join a gym, and when I walked into the place I saw nothing but firm, toned bodies all around me.

Belief: What am I doing here? I look like a beached whale compared to these people! I should get out of here while I still have some dignity,

Consequences: I felt totally self-conscious and ended up leaving after fifteen minutes.

Adversity: After being on a diet for a couple of weeks she goes out for drinks with some friends and starts wolfing down snacks. Immediately afterward she feels she has “ruined” her diet.

Consequences: She decides to really make a pig of herself and eats a cake in the freezer.

Once you are aware of your pessimistic beliefs there are two general ways to deal with them. The first is simply to distract yourself when they occur—try to think of something else. The second is to dispute them. Disputing is more effective in the long run, because successfully disputed beliefs are less likely to recur when the same situation presents itself again.

Here is an example Seligman provides regarding distraction. “..,think about a piece of apple pie with vanilla ice cream. The pie is heated and the ice cream forms a delightful contrast in taste and temperature. You probably find that you have almost no capacity to refrain from thinking about the pie. But you do have the capacity to redeploy your attention. Think about this one again. Got it. Mouth-watering? Now stand up and slam the palm of your hand against the wall and shout “STOP!” The image of the pie disappeared, didn’t it? This is one of several simple but highly effective thought-stopping techniques used by people who are trying to interrupt habitual thought patterns. Some people ring a loud bell, others carry a three-by-five card with the word STOP in enormous red letters. Many people find it works well to wear a rubber band around their wrists and snap it hard to stop their ruminating. It is good to combine one of these physical techniques with a technique called attention shifting. To keep your thoughts from returning to a negative belief after interruption, direct your attention elsewhere. Actors do this when they must suddenly switch from one emotion to another. When something disturbing happens and you find thoughts hard to stop, say to yourself, ‘Stop. I’ll think this over later.’ Writing troublesome thoughts down the moment they occur and setting a later time to think about them works well; it takes advantage of the reason ruminations exist—to remind you of themselves—and so undercuts them. If you write them down and set a time to think about them, they no longer have any purpose, and purposelessness lessens their strength.”

Although ducking our disturbing beliefs can be good first aid, a deeper more lasting remedy is to dispute them: Give them an argument. Go on the attack. By effectively disputing the beliefs that follow adversity, you can change your customary reaction from dejection and giving up to activity and good cheer. Consider the following:

Adversity: i recently started taking night classes after work for a master’s degree. I got my first set of exams back and I didn’t do nearly as well as I wanted.

Belief: What awful grades. I no doubt did the word in the class. I’m just stupid and I’m to to be competing with young kids.

Consequences: I felt totally dejected and useless. I was embarrassed I even gave it a try, and decided to withdraw from my courses and be satisfied with the job I have.

Disputation: I’m blowing things out of proportion. I hoped to get all As, but I got a B, a B+, and a B-. Those aren’t awful grades. I may not have done the best in the class, but I didn’t do the worst either. The guy next to me had two Ds and a D+. The fact that I’m forty doesn’t make me any less intelligent than anyone else in the class. I have a full time job and a family. I think that given my situation I did a good job on my exams.

Consequently, he does not withdraw from the class and feels better about himself.

Optimism and Good Health

November 21, 2019

This post is the seventh in a series of posts based on Dr. Martin Seligman’s important book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. There are four ways the theory of learned helplessness strongly suggests that optimism should benefit health.

The first follows from the research of Madelon Visintainer’s findings that learned helplessness in rats made them more susceptible to tumor growth. This research was bolstered by more detailed work on the immune systems of helpless rats. The immune system provides the cellular defense agains illness. It contains different kinds of cells whose job is to identify and then kill foreign invaders, such as viruses, bacteria, and tumor cells. T-cells recognize specific invaders such as measles, then greatly multiply and kill invaders. Another kind, natural killer cells (NK cells), kill anything foreign they happen across. Researchers looking at the immune systems of helpless rats found that the experience of inescapable shock weakens the immune system. T-cells from the blood of rats that become helpless no longer multiply rapidly when they come across the specific invaders they are supposed to destroy. NK cells from the spleens of helpless rats lose their ability to kill foreign invaders.

A second way in which optimism should produce good health concerns sticking to her regimens and seeking medical advice. Consider a pessimistic person who believes that sickness is permanent, pervasive, and personal. She is not likely to give up unhealthy habits nor to pursue a healthy lifestyle.

A third way in which optimism should matter for health concerns the sheer number of bad life events encountered. It has been shown statistically that the more bad events a person encounters in any given time period, the more illness she will have. People who in the same six months move, get fired, and divorced are at a greater risk for infectious illness—and even for heart attacks and cancer—than are people who lead uneventful lives. Pessimists encounter more bad events and are less likely to take steps to avoid bad events and less likely to do anything to stop them once they start. So putting two and two together, if pessimists have more bad events and if more bad events lead to more illness, pessimists should have more illness.

The fourth reason that optimists should have better health concerns social support. The capacity to sustain deep friendships and love seems to be important for physical health. Middle-aged people who have at least one person whom they can call in the middle of the night to tell their troubles to, go on to have better physical health than friendless people. Unmarried people are at a higher risk for depression than couples. Even ordinary social contact is a buffer against illness. People who isolate themselves when they are sick tend to get sicker. Pessimists become passive more easily when trouble stikes, and they take fewer steps to get and sustain social support. This connection between lack of social support and illness provides the fourth reason to believe that an optimistic explanatory style is likely to produce good health.

The brain and the immune system are connected not through nerves but through hormones, the chemical messengers that flow through the blood can transmit emotional states from one part of the body to another. It is well documented that when a person is depressed the brain changes. Neurotransmitters, hormones that relay messages from one nerve to another, can become depleted. One set of transmitters called, catecholamines, become depleted during depression. If your level of pessimism can deplete your immune system, it seems likely that pessimism can impair your physical health over your whole life span.

Content Analysis for Verbal Explanations (CAVE)

November 20, 2019

This is the sixth post based on a book by Martin Seligman, Ph.D., titled Learned Optimism The subtitle is How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. The problem was how to characterize individual players in sports and their teams with respect to the optimism dimension. To do so they developed the CAVE technique. CAVE is an acronym for content analysis of verbatim explanations. This can be done by reading the sports pages. Causal statements made by a player can be evaluated on a 1 to 7 scale with respect to its permanent, pervasive, and personal qualities. This enables getting a player’s explanatory style without using a questionnaire. They found that such a profile roughly matches what would have happened if the questionnaire had been taken by the player. By doing this they created a technique that is a virtual time machine.

This virtual time machine provided an extremely powerful tool. This enabled the study of optimism of people who either could not (e.g., deceased individuals) or would not take the ASQ as long as there were verbatim quotes from these individuals. They could “CAVE” an enormous range of material for explanatory style: press conferences, diaries, therapy transcripts, letters from home, and so forth.

The CAVE method provided evidence that we learn our explanatory style from our mothers. In 1970 grandmothers were interviewed. Their children, now mothers themselves were also interviewed. They CAVEd these interviews and found that there was a marked resemblance between the level of pessimism of the mothers and their daughters. This is one of the ways we learn optimism, by listening to our mothers explain the everyday events that happen to them.

This time machine provided the first evidence that the reality of the crises we go through as children shapes our optimism: Girls who went through economic crises that were resolved came to look at bad events as temporary and changeable. But children who experienced the privations of the Great Depression and remained poor afterward came to look at bad events as fixed and immutable. Seligman writes, “So our major childhood crises may give us a pattern, like a cookie cutter, with which, for the rest of or lives, we produce explanations of new crises.

British professor George Brown spent ten years walking around the most poverty-stricken areas of South London, interviewing housewives at great length. He interviewed more than four hundred, looking for the key to the prevention of depression. Over 20% of the housewives were depressed, half of them psychotically. He was determined to find out what separated those women who got severely depressed in that trying environment from those who were apparently invulnerable.

He isolated three protective factors. If any one of them were present, depression would not occur, even in the face of severe loss and privation. The first protective factor was an intimate relationship with a spouse or lover. Such women could fight depression off well. The second was a job outside the home. The third was not having three or more children under the age of fourteen at home to take care of.
In addition to invulnerability factors, Brown isolated two major risk factors for depression: recent loss (husband dying, or emigrating) and, more important, death of their own mothers before the women had reached their teens.

Seligman concludes with three kinds of influences on a child’s explanatory style. “First, the form of the everyday causal analyses he hears from you—especially if you are his mother: If your are optimistic, he will be too. Second, the form of criticism he hears when he fails: If they are permanent and pervasive, his view of himself will turn toward pessimism. Third, the reality of his early losses and traumas: If they remit, he will develop the theory that bad events can be changed and conquered. But if they are, in fact, permanent and pervasive, the seeds of hopelessness have been deeply planted.”

The CAVE methodology has proved informative for a wide range of research issues. There is a chapter titled “Politics, Religion, and Culture: A New Psychohistory.” The interested reader is encouraged to read Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Brain and Your Life.” These blog posts just capture a few major ideas from this book. In the book you can find questionnaires for assessing the optimism of you and your children.

Attributional Style Questionnaire (ASQ)

November 19, 2019

This is the fifth post based on a book by Martin Seligman, Ph.D. titled Learned Optimism. The subtitle is How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. The ASQ was developed to have a survey instrument for assessing attributional style. The ASQ is open-ended and consists of twelve little scenarios. Half are about bad events (e.g.,”You go out on a date and it goes badly….”, and half are about good events (e.g., “You suddenly become rich….”). You are asked to imagine the event happening to you and to fill in the most likely cause. So, to explain the first scenario you might say, “I have bad breath,” and for the second, “I’m a brilliant investor.”

Then, you are asked to rate the cause you suppled, on a one-to-seven scale, for personalization. (“Is this cause something about other people or circumstances [external], or is it something about you [internal]?). Then you are asked to rate it for permanence. (“Will this cause never again be present when looking for a job [temporary] or always be present [permanent]?”). Finally, you rate it for pervasiveness (“Does this cause affect only looking for a job [specific] or all other areas of your life [pervasive]?”)

For the first try to validate the questionnaire it was given to two hundred experienced sales agents, half of whom were eagles (very productive) and half turkeys (unproductive). The eagles scored much more optimistically on the questionnaire than the turkeys did. When these test scores were matched to actual sales records the agents who scored in the most optimistic half of the ASQ had sold 37% more insurance on average in their first two years of work than agents who scored in the pessimistic half. Agents who scored in the top 10% sold 88 % more than the most pessimistic tenth.

Seligman writes that the ASQ is a theory-based test, but it is based on a theory very different from the traditional wisdom about success. Traditional wisdom holds that there are two ingredients of success, and you need both to succeed. The first is ability or aptitude and IQ tests and the SAT are supposed to measure it. The second is desire or motivation. Traditional wisdom says that if you lack desire you will fail. Enough desire can make up for meager talent.

Seligman believes that the traditional wisdom is incomplete. He writes, “A composer can have all the talent of a Mozart and passionate desire to succeed, but if he believes he cannot compose music, he will come to nothing. He will not try hard enough. He will give up too soon when the elusive right melody takes too long to materialize. Success requires persistence, the ability to not give up in the face of failure.” He believes that the optimistic explanatory style is the key to persistence.
The explanatory-style theory of success says that in order to choose people for success in a challenging job, you need to select for three characteristics:
1. aptitude
2. motivation
3. optimism
All three determine success.

Work with the Met Life sales force found that the ASQ greatly increased productivity. They also found that optimists kept improving over pessimists over time. The theory had been that optimism matters because it produces persistence. At first it was expected that talent and motivation for selling should be at least as important as persistence. As research continued it was found that persistence became decisive.

How You Think, How You Feel

November 18, 2019

This title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in a book by Martin Seligman, Ph.D., titled Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. This is the fourth post on this book. By the late 1960s Joseph Wolpe and Tim Beck had drawn the same conclusion about depression. The conclusion was that depression is nothing more than its symptoms. It is caused by conscious negative thoughts. There is no deep underlying disorder to be rooted out: not unresolved childhood conflicts, not unconscious anger. Emotion comes directly from what we think: Think “I am in danger” and you feel anxiety. Think “I am being trespassed against” and you feel anger. Think “Loss” and you feel sadness. HM would like to note that biological causes of depression should not be ruled out, but most psychological processes, with the exception of thinking, should be ruled out.

Rumination is having the same depressing thoughts over and over. It is called rumination because people are chewing over and over the same thoughts. Seligman writes that rumination combined with a pessimistic explanatory style is the recipe for severe depression. Seligman continues, “The difference between people whose learned helplessness disappears swiftly and people who suffer their symptoms for two weeks or more is usually simple: Members of the latter group have a pessimistic explanatory style, and a pessimistic explanatory style changes learned helplessness from brief and local to long-lasting and general. Learned helplessness becomes full-blown depression when the person who fails is a pessimist. In optimists, failure produces only brief demoralization.”

Seligman continues, “The key to this process is hope over hopelessness. Pessimistic explanatory style consists of certain kinds of explanations for bad events: personal (“It’s my fault”), permanent (It’s always going to be like this”), and pervasive (It’s going to undermine every aspect of my life.)

Seligman’s theory follows: “there is one particularly self-defeating way to think: making personal, permanent, and pervasive explanations for bad events.” People who have this most pessimistic of all styes are likely, once they fail, to have he symptoms of learned helplessness for a long time and across many endeavors, and to lose self-esteem. Such protracted learned helplessness amounts to depression. People who have a pessimistic explanatory style and suffer bad events will probably become depressed, whereas people who have an optimistic explanatory style and suffer bad events tend to resist depression.” Consequently, pessimism is a risk factor for depression in the same sense as smoking is a risk factor for lung cancer or being a hostile, hard-driving man is a risk factor for a heart attack.

Cognitive Therapy is an effective therapy for depression for the following reasons:

First, you learn to recognize the automatic thoughts flitting through your consciousness at the time you feel worst.

Second, you learn to dispute the automatic thoughts by marshaling contrary evidence.

Third, you learn to make different explanations, called reattributions, and use them to dispute your automatic thoughts.

Fourth, you learn how to distract yourself from depressing thoughts.

Fifth, you learn to recognize and question the depression-sowing assumptions governing so much of what you do.

The concluding section to this chapter is titled “Why Does Cognitive Therapy work? This section is presented in its entirety.

“There are two kinds of answers to this question. On a mechanical level, cognitive therapy works because it changes explanatory style from pessimistic to optimistic, and the change is permanent. It gives you a set of cognitive skills for talking to yourself when you fail. You can use these skills to stop depression from taking hold when failure strikes.

At a philosophical level, cognitive therapy works because it takes advantage of newly epitomized powers of the self. In an era when we believe the self can change itself, we will try to change habits of thought which used to seem as inevitable as sunrise. Cognitive therapy works in our era because it gives the self a set of techniques for changing itself. The self chooses to do this work out of self-interest, to make itself feel better.

Ultimate Pessimism

November 17, 2019

This title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in a book by Martin Seligman, Ph.D., titled Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. This is the third post on this book. Ultimate pessimism is depression, which comes in three kinds. The first is called normal depression. It is the type each of us knows well. Seligman writes, “It springs from the pained losses that are inevitable parts of being members of a sapient species, creatures who think about the future. We don’t get the jobs we want, we get rejected by people we love, or our loved ones die. It is predictable when such things happen that we feel sad and helpless. We become passive and lethargic. We can believe that our prospects are bleak and that we lack the talent to make them brighter. We don’t do our work well, and might avoid work. Zest goes out of activities we used to enjoy, and we lose our interest in food, company, and sex. We can’t sleep.

But most of the time, by one of nature’s benevolent mysteries, we start to get better. Normal depression is the common cold of mental illness. Seligman writes that he has repeatedly found that at any given moment approximately 23% of us are going through an episode of normal depression, at least in mild form.

The two other kinds of depression are called depressive disorders: unipolar and bipolar depression. What determines the difference between unipolar and bipolar depression is whether or not mania is involved. Mania is a psychological conjoint with a set of symptoms that look like the opposite of depression: unwarranted euphoria, grandiosity, frenetic talk and action, and inflated self-esteem.

Bipolar depression always includes manic episodes, and is also called manic-depression (with mania at one pole and depression at the other). Unipolar depressives never have manic episodes. Another difference between the two is that bipolar depression is much more heritable. If one of two identical twins has bipolar depression, there is a 72% chance the other also has it. This is only 14% true of fraternal twins who are no more closely related than any other full siblings. Bipolar depression is treated with a “wonder drug, “lithium carbonate.” Seligman writes that in more than 80% of cases of bipolar depression, lithium will relieve the mania to a marked degree and, to a lesser extent, the depression. Unlike normal and unipolar depression, manic-depression is an illness, appropriately viewed as a disorder of the body and treated medically.

Seligman’s view differs radically from the prevailing medical opinion, which holds that unipolar depression is an illness and normal depression is just a passing demoralization of no clinical interest. He writes, “This view is the dominant one in spite of a complete absence of evidence that unipolar depression is anything more than just severe normal depression. No one has established the kind of distinction between them that has been established between dwarfs, for instance, and short normal people—a qualitative distinction.” Both normal and unipolar depression involve the same four types of negative change: in thought, mood, behavior, and physical responses.

The way you think when you are depressed differs from the way you think when you are not depressed. When you are depressed you have a dour picture of yourself, the world, and the future. When you’re depressed, small obstacles seem like insurmountable barriers. You believe everything you touch turns to ashes. You have an endless supply of reasons why each of your successes is really a failure.

The second way both unipolar and normal depression is recognized is a negative change in mood. When you’re depressed, you feel awful: sad, discouraged, sunk in a pit of despair. Jokes are no longer funny, but unbearably ironic.

The third symptom of depression concerns behavior. There are three behavioral symptoms: passivity, indecisiveness, and suicidal action.

Many depressed people think about and attempt suicide. They generally have one or both of two motives. The first is surcease: The prospect of going on as they are is intolerable, and they want to end it all. The other is manipulation: They want to get love back, or get revenge, or have the last word in an argument.

The final symptom of depression concerns the physical self. Depression is frequently accompanied by undesirable physical symptoms; the more severe the depression, the more symptoms. The appetites diminish. You can’t eat. You can’t make love. Sleeping becomes difficult.

Unfortunately, depression is increasing. Research has shown that there has been greater than a tenfold increase in depression over the course of the century.

Seligman concludes this chapter as follows: “When we now look at the upsurge of depression, we could view it as an epidemic of learned helplessness. We know the cause of learned helplessness, and now we can see it as the cause of depression: the belief that your actions will be futile. This belief was engineered by defeat and failure as well as uncontrollable situations. Depression could be caused by defeat, failure, and loss of the consequent belief that any actions taken will be futile.

I think this belief is at the heart of our national epidemic of depression. The modern self must be more susceptible to learned helplessness, to an ever-growing conviction that nothing one does matters. I think I know why, and I’ll discuss it in the final chapter.

This all sounds pretty bleak. Yet there is also a hopeful side, and this is where explanatory style becomes important.”

Three Types of Explanatory Style

November 16, 2019

This is the second post in a series of posts on Dr. Martin Seligman’s important book “Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life.” The preceding post stated that it is the explanation that individuals have for their failure to achieve a particular goal. This post explains the dimensions of explanatory style.

One dimension of explanatory style is permanence. People who give up easily believe the causes of bad events that happen to them are permanent: Bad events will happen, and will always be there to affect their lives. People who resist helplessness believe the causes of bad events are temporary.

Here are some comparisons of pessimistic and optimistic explanations:

People who give up easily believe the causes of bad events that happen to them are permanent.

PERMANENT (Pessimistic): TEMPORARY (Optimistic)

“I’m all washed up” “I’m exhausted.”
“Diets never work.” “Diets don’t work when you eat out.”
“You always nag.” “You nag when I don’t clean up my room.”
“The boss is a bastard.” “The boss is in a bad mood.”
“You never talk to me.” “You haven’t talked to me lately.”

The optimistic style of explaining good events is just the opposite of the optimistic style of explaining bad events. People who believe good events have permanents causes are more optimistic than people who believe they have temporary causes.

TEMPORARY (Pessmistic) PERMANENT (Optimistic)
“It’s my lucky day.” I’m always lucky
“I try hard.” I’m talented
“My rival got tired.” My rival is no good.

This permanence dimension determines how long a person gives up for. Permanent explanations for bad events produce long-lasting helplessness and temporary explanations produce resilience.

Permanence is about time. Pervasiveness is about space. People who make universal explanations for their failures give up on everything when a failure strikes in one area. People who make specific explanations may become helpless in that one part of their lives yet march bravely on in the others.

UNIVERSAL (Pessimistic) SPECIFIC (Optimistic)
“All teachers are unfair.” “Professor Seligman is unfair.”
“I’m repulsive.” “I’m repulsive to him.”
“Books are useless.” “This book is useless.”

The optimistic explanatory style for good events is opposite that for bad events. The optimist believes that bad events have specific causes, while good events will enhance everything he does; the pessimist believes the bad events have universal causes and that good events are cause by specific factors.

SPECIFIC (Pessimistic) UNIVERSAL (Optimistic)
“I’m smart at math.” “I’m smart.”
“My broker knows oil stocks” “My broker knows Wall Street.”
“ I was charming to her.” “I was charming.”

Whether or not we have hope depends on two dimensions of our explanatory style: pervasiveness and permanence. Finding temporary and specific causes for misfortune is the art of hope: Temporary causes limit helplessness in time, and specific causes limit helplessness to the original situation. On the other hand, permanent causes produce helplessness far into the future, and universal causes spread helplessness through all our endeavors. Finding permanent and universal causes for misfortune is the practice of despair.

“I’m stupid.” “I’m hung over.”
“Men are tyrants.” “My husband was in a bad mood.”
“It’s five in ten this lump is cancer.” “It’s five in ten this lump is nothing.”

According to Seligman, the final aspect of explanatory style is personalization. When bad things happen, we can blame ourselves (internalize) or we can blame other people or circumstances (externalize). People who blame themselves when they fail have low self-esteem as a consequence. They think they are worthless, talentless, and unlovable. People who blame external events do not lose self-esteem when bad events strike. Not surprisingly, they like themselves better than people who blame themselves do.

Low self-esteem usually comes from an internal style for bad events.

INTERNAL (Low self-esteem) EXTERNAL (High self-esteem)

“I’m stupid.” “You’re stupid.”
“I have no talent at poker.” “I have no luck at poker.”
“I’m insecure.’ “I grew up in poverty.”

The optimistic style for explaining good events is the opposite of that used for bad events: It’s internal rather than external. Seligman writes that people who believe they cause good things tend to like themselves better than people who believe good things come from other people or circumstances.

EXTERNAL (Pessimistic) INTERNAL (Optimistic)

“A stroke of luck…” “I can take advantage of luck.”
“My teammates’ skill… “My skill…”

Seligman notes that although there are clear benefits to learning optimism—there are also dangers. “Temporary? Local? That’s fine. I want my depressions to be short and limited. I want to bounce back quickly. But external? Is it right that I should blame others for my failures.?”

Learned Optimism

November 15, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Martin Seligman, Ph.D. The subtitle is How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. Professor Seligman is the father of positive psychology. He felt that psychology had been focused almost exclusively on illness and problems. He thought that more emphasis should be placed on making people feel happy and fulfilled. You should note that there is a relatively new category of healthy memory blogs labeled ‘Positivity.”

Initially, Seligman’s renown was for documenting the finding of learned helplessness. Research with animals discovered that many of these subjects, if offered no way to free themselves from painful stimuli, would conclude that there was nothing to learn other than that they were helpless. So when given an opportunity to avoid or escape from painful stimuli, these animals would fail to do so.

Similar findings resulted with research on human subjects. Fortunately, humans can be asked about why they felt helpless. They explained that they thought that there was no way to avoid the painful or adverse situation. Even when there was a means of avoiding or stopping the situation, they still believed that that there was nothing they could do. So they had in effect learned to be helpless.

It is easy to think of people who live in poor environments with few opportunities for success. They, too, can readily conclude that there is nothing that they can do that they are victims of their environments.

This feeling that there is nothing that can be done to improve the situation provides the foundation for pessimism. On the other hand, optimists regard failures or disappointments as obstacles that they think that they can overcome. In other words, they are highly resilient.,

So what determines whether we are optimists or pessimists depends on how we think.

Seligman writes, “One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think. Research has shown that what distinguishes optimists from pessimists is their explanatory style. That is how they explain the failure they are experiencing. In other words, how they think about or explain the failure is in control of the individual.

The notion that we can control our minds and on how we think and feel has long been a theme of the healthy memory blog. Blog posts on meditation and mindfulness are devoted to teaching us how to have greater control of our minds.

The subsequent posts on “Learned Optimism” will discuss research on this topic and will provide strategies for being optimistic and overcoming negative thinking.

Positivity Wrap Up

September 4, 2019

It is hoped that by know you not only are aware of the extreme importance of increasing positivity and decreasing positivity in your life, but that you also have an extensive amount of guidance as to how to accomplish these goals. The title is Positivity Wrap Up rather than Positivity Conclusion because positivity is a lifelong pursuit and it is only these series of posts that are concluding. Even so, you should anticipate future posts on this topic because it is so important. The fear is that the amount of advice might be overwhelming. Use what you find relevant and what you have the resources to address.

You have the survey for assessing your own positivity. Remember that the goal, the tipping point into positivity is a ratio of 3. However, you should not stop at this level and continue your endeavor into a more flourishing life.

Remember that these blog posts cannot do justice to the complete book. So consider reading “Positivity: Discover the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life,” by Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D.

A Positivity Toolkit

September 3, 2019

This post is based on a book by psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson, “Positivity: Discover the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life.”

Tool 1. Be Open. The goal here is to experiment with mindful awareness while carrying out your day. Make your motto “be open.” Temporarily rid your mind of expectations and judgments. These can cloud your ability to be open. Instead, give yourself permission and time to experience the richness of the present moment. No matter what you encounter, no matter what happens, experiment with both awareness and acceptance.

Tool 2. Create High-Quality Connections. Any social interaction—whether with family, co-workers, or someone ahead of you in line—is a chance to create a high-quality connection. According to Jane Dutton, cofounder of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, your moments of connection with others form a dynamic, living tissue that can be either life-giving or life-depleting. High quality connections are life-giving. You recognize them instantly by several telltale signs: they foster mutual appreciation and encourage truly being or doing things together; they recharge your energy and your vitality; they bring real physiological changes. You can literally feel high-quality connections resonate within your body.

Tool 3. Cultivate Kindness. This tool draws from research done by Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness. Give yourself the goal of performing five new acts of kindness on a single day. Aim for actions that really make a difference and come at some cost, such as donating blood, helping your neighbor with her yard work. Assess what those around you might need most. Although some of the kind acts you choose may take some advance planning, make a point to carry them all out on a single day. At the end of the day, take stock. Notice the good feelings that come with increasing your kindness: the positive connection to the person you helped, the fitting sense of pride you get from making a contribution. For lasting impact, make your kindness day a recurring ritual. Be creative each week. Find new ways to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Try it for a few months and see the difference it makes.

Tool 4. Develop Distractions. The suggestion is to make two lists. Label one healthy distractions and the other unhealthy distractions. Ask, “What can I do to get my mind off my troubles?” Then brainstorm, identifying things you already do,as well as new activities you’d like to try. Try to come up with things you can do in good and bad weather, at work, at home, or on the road.

Write down the unhealthy distractions that tempt to you. For each unhealthy distraction that tempts you, come with a healthy alternative: a drink or snack that doesn’t take a toll; a movie, computer game, or song list that’s more uplifting.

Tool 5. Dispute Negative Thinking. This exercise comes from the Penn Resiliency Program. This requires a set of index cards. On each one, write one of your typical negative thoughts. Write down negative thoughts that are realistic and truly yours. Capture your inner critic, that voice in your head that’s skeptical of you, of others, and of everything around you—the voice of ill will.

Then shuffle the cards and pick one at random. Read, then as fast and as thoroughly as you can—dispute it. When you’re satisfied that you’ve shot down your menacing negativity with rapid-fire facts, move on to the next card. Repeat. As you work your way through your negativity deck, let you conviction grow as you become a seasoned disputer. Whenever you find gratuitous negativity lurking in your mind, externalize it by adding it to your deck of cards. Challenge yourself to meet it out in the open—out loud—with your rapid fire facts. Be sure that these are facts and that you are not lying to yourself.

Tool 6. Find Nearby Nature. Locate places you can get to in a matter of minutes that will connect you to green or blue, to trees, water, or sky. Ample research has shown that these boost positivity.

Tool 7. Learn and Apply Your Strengths. One way to learn your strengths is to take a free, online survey that Martin Seligman (the founder of Positive Psychology) and Chris Peterson developed with support from the Values in Action Institute. Allow yourself plenty of time to take this survey: it contains 240 items to measure 24 character strengths. You can find it by visiting Seligman’s website at the University of Pennsylvania’a Positive Psychology Center, or point your browser to After completing the survey, you’ll receive a report that ranks the 24 strengths by the degree to which they characterize you. The report will also feature your top five strengths, and encourage you to reflect on which ones truly resonate for you, which strengths, when you act on them, make you come alive. This self-reflection is critical. It’s how you locate your “signature” strengths among your top five.

Tool 8. Meditate Mindfully. There are many healthy memory blog posts on this topic. Go to and enter “relaxation response” in the search box.

Tool 9. Meditate on Loving-Kindness. There are also posts on this tool. Go to and enter loving-kindness in the search box.

Tool 10. Ritualize Gratitude. Being grateful simply requires that you notice the gifts that surround you. If you’re drawn to record your thoughts in writing, consider buying a blank book to be your gratitude journal.

Tool 11. Savor Positivity. You need two things to experiment with savoring. First is a genuine love, joy, pride, or any other flavor of positivity in your life; second a willingness to think differently about it. The key is to think about the event in away that stokes your positivity flames right now. Truly cherish the event, and its benefits to you will grow.

A Word of Caution from HM. This is an enormous toolkit. It easily overwhelms. It’s even more overwhelming when you consider your obligations. Some of the tools here should be helpful in dealing with your obligations. But you need to be selective, picking and choosing what you think is most helpful and what you think you’ll be able to devote your time to.

Increase Positivity

September 2, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in a book by a book by psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson, “Positivity: Discover the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life.” The chapter begins with the following Cherokee parable:

One evening an Old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle
that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy jealousy,
sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment,
inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

“ The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity,
humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth,
compassion, and faith.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his
grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Sincerity matters. Take a moment to appreciate the word “Heartfelt.” To truly feel positivity in your heart requires that you slow down. The pace of modern life is often so relentless that it keeps you focused outward, away from your inner core. To increase your positivity, you’ll need to “un-numb” your heart. Let it feel. Let it be open. Slow yourself down enough so that you can see and hear and sense with your heart, not just with your eyes, ears, and mind. Let yourself breathe in and fully absorb the goodness that surrounds you. Connect to that goodness. Revel in it. Together with a sincere attitude, this slower pace unlocks your heartfelt positivity.

Find Positive Meaning. Finding positive meaning is always possible. Most of the circumstances we face are not 100% bad. So the chance to find the good, and honestly accentuate the positive meaning in your current circumstance, is always present, even if it’s simply to realize that “this too shall pass.” When you reframe unpleasant and even dire circumstances in a positive way, you boost the odds that positive emotions—like hope—will flow forth.

Savor Goodness. Another strategy for increasing positivity, perhaps obvious is to find the good within the good, by turning something positive into something even more positive. The author suggests calling this gold-plated positivity. She writes that savoring is a mental habit we can develop.

Count Your Blessings. By moving the riverbed of your habitual thought you can reframe something bad as something good and make good things even better. You can even do the same with seemingly ordinary things. You can take something flat, dull, and commonplace and make it sparkle. Oprah popularized the idea of keeping a gratitude journal. She encouraged people to write down five things they love each day.

Kindness Counts. There are at least two sides to kindness. When you count your blessings, you often appreciate how others have been kind to you and have elicited your gratitude. Recognizing your side of kindness is another simple and cost-free way to boost your positivity. Kindness and positivity feed own each other. Simply recognizing your own acts of kindness initiates an upward spiral.

Follow Your Passions. Give yourself permission to play. Find the activities that allow you to enter flow. Flow states are those peak moments in which you become fully absorbed in an activity, when the challenges of the activity are high and well-matched by your ever increasing skills. Some people enter into flow with their hobbies.

Dream About Your Future. Another way to boost your positivity is to dream more frequently about your future. Conjure up the best possible outcomes for yourself. Visualize your future successes in great detail. People who are assigned at random to carry out such an exercise show reliable increases in their positivity relative to those who carry out more mundane self-reflective actions.

Apply Your Strengths. People who have the opportunity to do what they do best—to act on their strengths—are far more likely to flourish. Research has shown that learning about your strengths can give you a high.

Connect with Others. Flourishing is not a solo endeavor. It’s scientifically correct to say that nobody reaches his or her full potential in isolation. Every person who flourishes has warm and trusting relationships with other people.

Connect with Nature. Natural environments may be as important to flourishing as social environments. So a very simple way to increase your positivity is to go outside.

Open Your Mind. Positivity and openness feed on each other, each triggering and reinforcing the other. This bidirectional link means that another level you can gasp to increase positivity is to be open. Be open and positivity will follow.

Open Your Heart. Whereas the practice of mindfulness meditation opens your mind, other age-old meditation practices seem to more directly unlock your heart. Practicing these other forms of meditation helps you experience your connections with others, bringing forth the deep and heartfelt positivity of community. The author suggest loving-kindness meditation. Enter “loving-kindness” into the search block at to find relevant posts on this topic.

Dealing with Negative People

September 1, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a section in of a book by psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D. titled “Positivity: Discover the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life.” The title presents a challenge to which we all will encounter. Here are three techniques for dealing with this situation.

Technique 1. Modify the situation. You need to be honest and ask yourself if there is any way that you inadvertently feed this person’s negativity. Could I somehow be baiting him with my own reaction or words? Am I to any degree closed down when we interact? What assumptions do I make about this person? Reviewing these questions might lead to better ways of interacting with this individual.

Another way to change the situation is to be proactive in setting the collective agenda. Choose joint activities that inspire you. Consider whether you might reserve the tasks that irritate you—for example, paying the bills or cleaning up—for when you’re each alone and less likely to fan the collective negativity flames.

If negativity surfaces, a final way to modify the situation is to inject compassion, hope, or even humor. Curb you tendency to respond “in kind” to gratuitous negativity with yet another helping of it. Don’t escalate the problem. Instead offer positive reframes of the negative messages delivered. Convert they “half empty” to half full.” Point out something that you both might see as funny. Scientific studies have shown that relationships in which one partner somehow manages to break the cycle of negative reciprocity—by respond to negativity in a neutral or positive way—fare far better than those in which partners mirror each other’s ill will.

Technique 2. Attend differently. Another strategy is to consider how you might attend to different aspects of this person. What are his positive qualities? What do you appreciate about him? What does he bring to the table? Perhaps your boss’s frequent bursts of anger are matched by his stand-out passion for making a positive difference in the world. Consider the times when your spouse has stood by you, loyal and faithful. Consider how you might give voice to what you appreciate. Research has documented that, in relationships, the areas where you choose to cast your attention and devote your words grow in strength and significance over time.

Technique 3. Change meanings. Instead of seeing this person as bringing you down, consider the quote by Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck,
Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath.
Could this person or situation be a teacher in disguise? They could be, if you reframe your time with her as a challenge—a challenge to be more mindful, less judgmental, or more compassionate. Remember that you do get to choose whether to react to the negativity this person spews. His negativity need not be yours. Working on you own reactions in a mindful way may even remove some of the fuel that keeps this person’s negativity flaming. But even if it doesn’t, you still come out ahead. You’ll have further developed your skill in mindfulness.

Decrease Negativity

August 31, 2019

The following post is based on a book by a book by psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson, “Positivity: Discover the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life.” The first tactic is to dispute the negative thoughts you are thinking. First of all, learn what you can from the experience such as starting a project earlier so cramming will not be needed at the end. Find whatever negative thoughts are useful, and learn from them. Remaining negative thoughts, such as criticizing yourself and your intelligence, should be disposed of. What is useful use. The remainder should be sent to your mental trash folder. Learning to dispute nonproductive forms of negative thinking is at the heart of cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT. The author writes that you don’t need to have a diagnosable mental illness to benefit from this skill. You can use it to keep inevitable negativity at bay.

Another technique is to break the grip of rumination. Ruminating involves the consistent thoughts that keep running through your mind over and over. The first step is to identify that you are ruminating, and if these ruminations are not offering anything helpful, then stop doing it.

Unfortunately, this is often easier said than done. So you need to do something that literally takes your mind off of your ruminations. Go for a jog. Go for for a swim. Fix your bike. Lift weights at the gym. Meditate or do yoga. Find some activity that totally absorbs you. You could call your friend and ask about his latest trip. Or you could read those articles you’ve been meaning to read for your next project at work.

You can become more mindful. You can meditate or engage in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR. Enter “mindfulness” “meditation,” or “MBSR,” into the search block at

You can ask yourself which circumstances usher in the most negativity. Is it your commute? Mealtime? Interactions with certain family members or co-workers? Once you’ve identified the cause ask yourself, Is this negativity necessary? Is it gratuitous? Is it both?

Assess your media diet. A rule of thumb for news broadcasters is “If it bleeds, it leads.” Years ago marketeers discovered that negativity grabs your attention, draws you in, and keeps you watching. Surveys show that the more people watch television, the more violent they judge the world to be. Those who watch a lot of TV are not better informed about the evils of the world. They’re not. They grossly overestimate rates of violence. People who watch less TV are more accurate judges of the degree of risk we all might encounter each day.

Find substitutes for gossip and sarcasm. When you talk about others, highlight their positive qualities and good fortunes, not their weaknesses and mishaps. When poking fun, poke fun lightly. Hurl puns, not barbs, Avoid hidden forms of verbal aggression that cause needless guilt, humiliation, irritation, or self-consciousness to you or conversation partners. Occasions for necessary negativity abound, so there’s little need to manufacture negativity with you daily banter. Doing so needlessly cripples your positivity ratio and crushes your odds of flourishing.

Growing Positivity

August 30, 2019

This post provides an evaluation instrument for rating your own positivity. The remaining posts, all based on a book by psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D, will provide advice and exercises for growing positivity. The survey below proves a tool for rating your own positivity:

Instructions: How have you felt in the past day? Look back over the past day (i.e., from this time yesterday up to right now). Using the 0-4 scale below, indicate the greatest degree that you’ve experienced of each of the following feelings.
0 = Not at all
1 = A little bit
2 = Moderately
3 = Quite a bit
4 = Extremely

What is the most amused, fun-loving, or silly you felt?

What is the most angry, irritated, or annoyed you felt?

What is the most ashamed, humiliated, or disgraced you felt?

What is the most awe, wonder, or amazement you felt?

What is the most contemptuous, scornful, or disdainful you felt?

What is the most disgust, distaste, or revulsion you felt?

What is the most embarrassed, self-conscious, or blushing you felt?

What is the most grateful, appreciative, or thankful you felt?

What is the most guilty, repentant, or blameworthy you felt?

What is the most hate, distrust, or suspicion you felt?

What is the most hopeful, optimistic, or encouraged you felt?

What is the most inspired, uplifted, or elevated you felt?

What is the most interested, alert, or curious you felt?

What is the most joyful, glad, or happy you felt?

What is the most love, closeness, or trust you felt?

What is the most proud, confident, or self-assured you felt?

What is the most sad, downhearted, or unhappy you felt?
What is the most scared, fearful, or afraid you felt?

What is the most serene, content, or peaceful you felt?

What is the most stressed, nervous, or overwhelmed you felt?

There are ten items that reflect positivity. These are the ones that begin with the words amused, awe, grateful, hopeful, interested, joyful, love, proud, and serene

There are ten items that reflect negativity. These begin with the words, angry, shamed, contemptuous, disgust, embarrassed, guilty, hate, sad, scared, and stressed.

Count the number of circled positivity items that you scored as a 2 or higher.

Count the number of underlined negativity items that you endorsed as 1 or higher.

Calculate the ratio by dividing your positive tally by your negative tally. If your negativity count is zero for today, consider it to be a 1, to sidestep the can’t-divide-by-zero problem. The resulting number represents your positivity ratio for today.
A ratio of 3 is regarded as the tipping point into positivity. This is also called flourishing. Of course, you can keep growing above this ratio.

You should also be able to take this test online by going to

You can take this test now or whenever you choose to begin the posts providing advice and exercises for growing positivity. This enables you to measure your progress as you master known positivity techniques.

Build Your Best Future

August 29, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a chapter in of a book by psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D. title “Positivity: Discover the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life.” The beginning of this chapter follows:

“You are constantly changing—not just your clothes or your hairstyle, but your inner core, the very essence of your being. Change is the rule, constancy the rare exception. Consider the change under way within you at this very moment. What you know as “you” is actually trillions of cells living and working together. Most only live for a few weeks or months. When they die, they re replaced by new cells. This cycle continues for as long as you live.

The pace of cell renewal varies by body part. Your taste buds live only a few hours. Your white blood cells live about ten days. Your muscle cells live about three months. Even your bones are made anew time and time again. Considering these differences, scientists have suggested that you replace about 1 percent of your cells each day. That’s 1 percent today, another 1 percent tomorrow, amounting to roughly 30 percent by next month, and 100 percent by next season. Seeing yourself and your cells in this way, every three months you get a whole new you. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that it takes around three months to learn a new habit or make a lifestyle change. Perhaps we can’t teach an old cell new tricks. Perhaps our best hope lies in teaching our new cells.

At one time scientists thought that your brain cells were different, that they didn’t change. Perhaps they even orchestrated the cycle of cell death and rebirth elsewhere in your body. Not so. Even key brain cells wither away and are reborn. Every part of you can change, and your brain is no exception.

More fascinating still is the discovery that the pace of cell renewal doesn’t simply follow some predetermined script. It varies depending on what you do and how you feel. A key signal tells your cells whether to decay or grow, for instance, is movement. A sedentary lifestyle hastens cell decay, An active lifestyle hastens cell renewal. This is true for both your body and your brain.

Your emotions are thought to be another key signal. Negativity prompts cell decay. Positivity prompts cell growth. At a very basic biological level, then, positivity is life-giving.

These scientific discoveries about the ever-changing nature of your body and brain are fully consistent with the second core truth about positivity: it transforms us for the better.”

Remember the metaphor presented in the Post, “Best Way to Think About Memory.” The metaphor is that the best way to think about your brain is as a corporate building. Your conscious mind resides in the executive suite at the top floor of the building. All of you memories and cognitive resources can be found at the floors below. Having positive thoughts and thinking about problem situations in constructive ways will have a profound beneficial effect on your memory, your feelings, and your sense of fulfillment as a human being.


August 28, 2019


Positivity is the title of a book by psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph.D. The subtitle is “Discover the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life.” Do not be put off by the hype. This book offers guidance on developing a more positive outlook on life

Readers of the healthy memory blog should know that a positive outlook is key to both mental health and physical health as well as a fulfilling life. Healthy memory blog readers should also be aware that we humans have a negative bias, which leads us to a negative outlook. This can be good if it forewarns us of danger, but, for most of us, at least danger does not loom around every corner.

Our negativity is further exacerbated by the nature of the news, which tends to feature negative articles, as well as the internet, which can further exacerbate negativity.

Indeed, the current president of the United States campaigned on fear and negativity and continues during his presidency to promote fear and negativity among his base (nazis and white supremacists) to increase, in his mind, his chances of winning reelection.

Six important facts about Positivity follow:

Fact 1. Positivity feels good. This alone could justify being positive as that the simple state of being positive is a pleasant experience.

Fact 2. Positivity changes how your mind works. Positivity does not just change the contents of your mind, trading bad thoughts for good ones; it also changes the scope or boundaries of your mind. It widens the span of possibilities that you see.

Fact 3. Positivity transforms your future. Although good feelings will forever be fleeting, over time, positivity literally brings out the best in you.

Fact 4. Positivity puts the brakes on negativity. In a heartbeat negativity can spike your blood pressure, but positivity can calm it.

Fact 5. Positivity obeys a tipping point. Dr. Frederickson writes, the most stunning and practical fact to emerge from the science of positivity is that its effects are nonlinear. Effects that are virtually nonexistent at one starting point grow disproportionately large at a different starting point. A tipping point is that sweet spot in between where a small change makes a big difference.

Fact 6. You can increase your positivity. You have more to say than you think, just as does the potential for life-giving positivity.

Positivity broadens and builds. Positivity opens us. The first core truth about positive emotions is that they open our hearts and our minds, making us more receptive and more creative.

Positivity transforms us for the better. This is the second core truth about positive emotions. By opening our hearts and minds, positive emotions allow us to discover and build new skills, new ties, new knowledge, and new ways of being.