On Purpose:
Stories & Insights from Mindfulness, Dharma, and Waking Up Each Day


Yes, Even Now

August 1, 2016

TreeIt’s easy to be frightened, to feel cynical, to judge and criticize, to feel envy or jealousy, and to generally drop into a place of contention without even noticing. Our culture gives us nonstop messages of needing things to be other. It keeps us seeking the next best thing, rarely supporting the value of stopping, stopping to enjoy the good that is already here just as it is. And especially in this tempestuous political season, it’s crucial to take some time to notice what is actually and already good in our lives. Yes, even and especially now.

 

Rick Hansen, the neuropsychologist and author of The Buddha’s Brain and Hardwiring Happiness, teaches that the brain has a natural negativity bias – it’s like Velcro for the negative and Teflon for the positive. Our basic survival instinct recognizes and latches onto danger with much greater speed and strength than it does peace, joy, love or even the general sense that things are actually alright. In fact, he often says that when we take the time to notice, we see that we’re almost always basically alright, right now. Think about that. It’s absolutely correct. When we truly stop and check-in in this moment, though we may not be entirely happy or satisfied our basic needs for safety, food, shelter and a companion or two are likely covered.

 

While we’re naturally wired to sense and react to danger before goodness, we can significantly influence our automatic responses – the negativity bias can be changed. Research consistently shows that by training the mind, we can change the brain.

 

The Buddha said “what one frequently thinks and ponders upon becomes the inclination of the mind.” For me, I know that if I keep playing the worn out tape of an old painful relationship, what happened, what didn’t happen, I’ll get stuck in the hardened ruts of the story. I’ll likely become sad or resentful, angry or hurt all over again. The repetitive thoughts themselves will strengthen the imprint of the memory in my brain making the negative feelings easy to access, easy feel, cloud my mind and lead nowhere good.

 

I’ve heard it said that repetitive thoughts are a dead end, and it doesn’t take much rumination to know this is true. When I can recognize those dead-end thought loops, I can more easily stop the habitual thought pattern, recognize it for what it is, and avoid replaying the story.

 

The same is also true for good memories, good thoughts, and positive experiences – those that nurture and support our well-being and bring happiness. They, too, imprint in the memory. When we deliberately look for the good, take in and recognize joy, happiness, love, a sense of things being basically alright, we direct the mind towards well-being. When we intentionally take the time to let it in and soak it up, we reinforce the neural pathways in the brain that support our sense of happiness.

 

Give it a try right now. Take the next few minutes to think about your day today. Try to think of something you enjoyed, something that makes you smile even a little bit. Or perhaps take a look around. Do you see something lovely or beautiful nearby? Pause and notice it, let yourself take it in. How does this feel in your body? What about your mind?

 

No matter what we choose, these moments of noticing goodness are vital to our well-being. By actively supporting and reinforcing our ability to see the good in the first place, new habit patterns take root and grow. Happiness grows, even and especially now.


Each Other’s Backyard

June 26, 2016
In 1998 my business partner and I opened Emerald City Laundry, a busy neighborhood laundromat in Arcata, California. Our mission statement said and remains “to be a clean, safe and dignified place for people to work do their laundry.” On the back of the interior door that separates the laundromat from the supply room is … Continue reading Each Other’s Backyard
Continue Reading

As if Your Hair is On Fire

April 25, 2016
“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what to hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope.” – Barbara Kingsolver I recently attended a memorial for Theo, a man who had a big community, was deeply loved and is deeply missed. On one of the … Continue reading As if Your Hair is On Fire
Continue Reading

The Profitability of the Heart – the New Bottom Line

March 21, 2016
  What does it mean to steal? When a person steals is she a thief? What does it mean to be a thief? Are there culturally accepted forms of thievery? Are certain categories of theft exempt? Is there anyone who has never taken anything that was not freely given? When and how do we cross … Continue reading The Profitability of the Heart – the New Bottom Line
Continue Reading

Nothing as Strong as Anger…Resolve to Practice Patience

February 28, 2016
As a destructive force there is nothing as strong as anger. An instant of anger can destroy all the positive actions…Indeed there is no fault as serious as anger. Patience, on the other hand, as a discipline that neutralizes and prevents us from succumbing to anger, is unrivaled. Through it, the suffering we endure from … Continue reading Nothing as Strong as Anger…Resolve to Practice Patience
Continue Reading

Precious, Just as You Are

February 6, 2016
The other day I was walking on the beach with a dear friend who in recent months had lost a considerable amount of weight. She was both startled and excited when she realized that all of her pants were suddenly way too big. It was a peculiar feeling; one of tenuous pride, success, and satisfaction … Continue reading Precious, Just as You Are
Continue Reading

Like It or Not

January 9, 2016
Mindful this, mindful that. Are you starting to roll your eyes every time you hear the word? Or does it help brighten your awareness as you go through your day? For me, it’s both.   I do appreciate the reminder to bring patience, curiosity and care into my day. I know how important this is … Continue reading Like It or Not
Continue Reading

The Most Important Thing

December 28, 2015
Here it is, the turn of the year – an ending and a beginning. For me it’s a new view, like coming around a gentle bend in the road. It’s a lovely time to pause, catch my breath, reflect on the last year and get ready to begin again.   Take a moment to remember … Continue reading The Most Important Thing
Continue Reading

Even in the US Congress

December 13, 2015
Last month I had the pleasure and honor of teaching the weekly meditation group in the Congressional Offices in Washington DC. This group was started a few years ago by Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio – a long-time meditator, a serious and committed proponent of mindfulness, and the author of A Mindful Nation, a great … Continue reading Even in the US Congress
Continue Reading

Paris, Again

November 16, 2015
“I have decided to stick with love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear.” –  Martin Luther King, Jr. Here we are in the sick and tragically familiar shock, outrage and despair from the violence of hate and intolerance that occurred again in Paris, and is occurring every day in places like Burma, Kenya, … Continue reading Paris, Again
Continue Reading