Thursday, September 26, 2013

Rick Hanson's "Taking in the Good"

"Best Things" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
In Buddha's Brain, Rick Hanson talks a lot about taking in the good.  He explains that our brains have a negativity bias which has helped us evolutionarily speaking, to get to the top of the food chain, and great in emergency situations, but that is perhaps now a bit detrimental in day to day life.   (He describes this as being Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good.)  He sees it as detrimental because our resilience and strength is based on positive experiences, but if positive experiences are slipping away and out of our inner experience because of the negativity bias, then we, over time, become quite brittle and anxious, always on guard and vulnerable.  If we are interested in developing our inner strength and our resilience, we need to practice "taking in the good" for long enough to lay down some neural pathways.  This can be 5, 10, even 30 seconds (or longer of course).  Not so very long.

I was always curious why of all of Seligman's Positive Psychology tasks the "3 Good Things" task was the most successful for the longest period of time, and now I think I know why now.  When we get into the awareness mode for "the good" our brain starts to do good things.  When we actually sit with that mode for as long as it takes to come up with three good things we are building new positive neural pathways, inner resilience and strength.  If we repeat this practice daily, wow.  Good things happen and we start to notice more and more "good things" both externally and internally.

OK, so here's how Rick Hanson suggests we "take in the good". 
1. Let good facts become good experiences.  Notice positive events (like someone being nice, smiling at you, you finish the dishes, small but positive stuff), positive conditions (like flowers are blooming or chocolate tastes great), and positive qualities in yourself (like your ability to enjoy working with art materials or your basic fairness or your curiosity and love of learning) - and then let them affect you and become positive feelings, bodily sensations, and thoughts.  You can even place your hand over your heart or touch your cheek to further embody these good sensations.
2. Stay with the good experience 5, 10, 30 seconds in a row, maybe even a full minute (use your timer).  Let the experience fill your body and mind and be as intense as possible.
3. Sense and intend that this good experience is sinking into you, like water into a sponge, becoming and inner resource.  So you are focusing on and absorbing the experience and feelings rather than "just" remembering a specific situation.

Just reading this fills me with delight, and if you want to further develop those neural pathways, create an art piece based on Rick Hanson's idea of "Taking in the Good" and then spend some time enjoying the piece.  Perhaps you can keep it where you might see it from time to time, so that each time you see it the neural structure gets a little stronger and a little happier.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Rick Hanson's "Hardwiring for Happiness" interviews

"Bloom" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
I listened to the first interview in Rick Hanson's (freely offered) series of interviews "Hardwiring for Happiness".  Joseph Goldstein was the interviewee.  So here are two lovely quotes.

Goldstein quoted the Buddha as having said:
"Practice that speech which brings people together.  Abandon that speech which pushes people apart."
So simple, so direct.  What a lovely practice!

And Rick Hanson reminded us of William James's interest in mindfulness and attention. 
 “The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is compos sui [master of himself] if he have it not. An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence.”
William James, Psychology: Briefer Course, p. 424 (Harper Torchbooks, 1961)

Indeed, that would be a most excellent education!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A timer is essential for one minute meditation

"Meditation" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
If you are trying the minute meditation (see previous post) a good timer is essential.  I'm enjoying my i-Qi timer which you can download for free for the iPhone and iPad.  Technology.  Some times it's ok.   They also have a facebook page.  Having a timer eliminates the concern about whether or not time is up.  Our heads are full of who knows what but at least we can eliminate that little concern.

"It's not a time for making decisions or worrying about life.  It's not a time for being complicated.  For one structured minute, instead of all that doing - the normal frenzy of activity - you are quite deliberately just being.  It is like a state of suspension: for one whole minute everything is on hold.  You step out of time and come back to your life refreshed."  - Martin Boroson One-Moment Meditation

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Five ways to move through metaphoric quagmire

"My Dream" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

Artist/Art therapist Lisa Mitchell from the InnerCanvas  has five creative ways to move through those sluggish times, those times when we might feel a little stuck (it does happen from time to time, in our lives, in our work, or in our art).  She reminds us that it's easy (and maybe even a little fun and surely quite artistic) to take an artist's approach to our quagmire.  I've paraphrased Lisa's suggestions here, but you can read the original blog post here.

1. Add Depth
Artists add depth by darkening or deepening the colors, overlapping shapes, and changing proportions. We can do the same in our lives and work by diving deeper into the emotion, looking for commonalities and following associations.  Don't discount the things that might at first seem irrelevant.

 2. Add Color
 Artists add color to warm or cool the picture, evoke or intensify emotion, and clarify the focal point. We can do the same in our lives by warming or cooling the tone of our communications, expressing more intense feelings, highlighting new areas to focus on.

3. Change the Focus
Artists maintain a broad view of their work by checking if the values are in right relationship to one another, by zooming out to understand how the details read from far away, and by zooming in to see that the texture and detail is accurate. We can do the same in our lives and work by maintaining a holistic view.  We can stay flexible, balancing content and process. We can attend to the cognitive and emotional aspects of experience.  We might "hang out" in the details in order to understand the emotional texture of the lives around us (and our own), rather than focusing only on the story.

 4. Gauge the Struggle
Artists knows when to persist and when to shift direction. They sense when they are forcing a piece and learn to back off or change direction. They learn when they aren't working hard enough and how to go into work even when all they can see is struggle.  We can do this too in our lives and work by sensing when we are forcing or working against others.  We can learn to sense when we has backed off too much, and we can certainly show up despite not knowing what an outcome will be.

5. Fall in Love (with the process)
 Artists dedicate themselves to the art process. They show up no matter what (even if it's just for cleaning brushes).  They stay curious and ever hopeful. In fact they love the uncertainty of their work.  We can do this too by showing up no matter what (even on days that feel somewhat trivial). We can stay curious and hopeful and learn to love the uncertainty of our lives and work.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What to do with the monkey mind...

"I do like to play" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.
Continuing with Martin Boroson's ideas on the one minute meditation (see previous blog post), the only instruction for our minds was to focus on our breathing.  We may be surprised at how little time our monkey minds need to really start jumping around. And then the harder we try to focus on our  breathing, the more it feels like work, and the more stressed we become. All in the flash of a minute.  Amazing.  So Boronson suggests it might be better to say, "Drop your mind into your breathing," "Relax your mind into your breathing" or "Allow your mind to settle into your breathing." If any one of these instructions works for us we should definitely use them.

And then there's the typical monkey mind activity during the minute meditation:
We are sitting still, focusing on our breath, maybe feeling a bit more peaceful than usual, when a thought pops into our awareness—"What's for dinner!" At first, we don't really realize that this thought has popped into our minds because we are actually thinking the thought. In fact, we can very quickly move on to wondering what needs to go on our shopping list and maybe some thoughts about processed food, and from there to Monsanto and GMO's. Then, suddenly we realize that we have been lost in thought about dinner and Monsanto and had forgotten completely about our breath. We wake up to our selves and our process. So we bring our mind back to the breathing and stay focused there—until some other thought or feeling takes us far away again. And then we wake up again. No worries, it's all good practice for waking up to our selves, waking up in our lives.

Just keep gently returning our minds to our breathing, where we can find the relaxation we crave.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

On the One Minute Meditation

"Transformation" collage by Lani, textures by FlyPaper.

"What you're aiming for [with meditation] is the feeling you get when you climb to the top of a mountain, sit down, and take in the view. A feeling of relief." - Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

That's  a lovely quote and it may just be what my personal elephant training practice is all about.  How to be more mindful in a busy, very distracted world.  How to come home to myself and feel that sense of relief, and know I can do that at any time.

To that end I'll be posting some of Martin Boroson's ideas from his month long course on Oprah's website and his book, One-Moment Meditation: Stillness for People on the Go.  He'd like us to get to that feeling of relief in a moment so he's starting us off with a minute practice.  Wow, a minute.  Even the busiest of people can take a minute to try this.  So here are his quite simple instructions.

1. Find a place of solitude.

2. Sit down.

3. Place your legs in a relaxed but fixed position.

4. Sit up.

5. Set your alarm for exactly one minute.

6. Place your hands in a relaxed but fixed position.

7. Close your eyes.

8. Focus all your attention on your breathing.

9. When the alarm sounds, stop.

Note:  I tried this and was shocked how exactly one minute felt like 45 minutes or even an hour.  Amazing how many little thoughts can pop up in a minute.