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There is perhaps no greater feeling than that of being of service to those in need. We are wired for altruism despite a popular pessimism on the generosity of the human spirit. We are quick to assume that most people won’t do the right thing when tested. A recent news report told the story of a man who found $98,000 in a desk he had bought from an ad on Craigslist, for $150.00. The story made headlines because to the amazement of the seller, the man, a Connecticut Rabbi, returned the entire sum after finding it hidden in the back panel of the desk. The owner had explained that the money was an inheritance he had forgotten about. I know, hard to believe, but which part of the story is more incredible? I think most of us would find the first part even more unlikely than the second. In fact the seller expressed this very sentiment stating “I do not think there are too many people in this world that would have done what you did by calling me”. Maybe not. But maybe still, it is more common than we think.
The gift of giving sparks in our human brains an extreme sense of purpose and well-being – feelings that lift our moods more than that of receiving and in fact stay with us much longer than the rewards of being gifted. Research has shown that raises in salary only motivate employees for very short periods of time, but employees who felt useful and productive reported feeling greater motivation and personal satisfaction over the long haul.
So it may come as a surprise that many people experience negative feelings around asking for help. Many of my clients report feeling like a burden at even the thought of it. Worse still, they feel needy and unlikeable. Yet when I ask them how they feel when they are the ones doing the giving, they immediately light up and become quite animated. Memories quickly come to mind, of being there for others in a time of need and how those very experiences provoked a strong sense of being alive and of immense well-being. Many describe it as not just fulfilling but of being filled up as well. The act of giving has a special way of healing our own wounds and filling the holes left from early unmet needs.
So why do we cheat others of this wonderful opportunity to feel good while benefitting ourselves in the process? It is the ultimate win-win proposition!
Of course not all giving and taking feels the same. There will always be times and people who are the exception, people who perhaps unconsciously (or sadly consciously) seek to use others, take advantage, or rely excessively on the graciousness of other people’s resources. We usually know the difference pretty quickly and, instead of experiencing the altruistic spark, we feel resentful and drained. When we weed out those unfortunate exceptions however, we find nourishment in a very unexpected place.
I have over the years come to deeply appreciate the prayer of St. Francis and find the last verse profoundly beautiful:
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Listening to the much loved and admired Tibetan teacher Pema Chodron today, I was reminded of how emotions are never wrong or right, nor unique, despite our deepest assumptions to the contrary. In the recanting of a story, about a student who sincerely believed that he was the first and only one in the world to feel as he felt, she responded in quintessential Ani Pema style, i.e, with the most gentle yet devilish smile as she assured him that he is not, nor would ever be, ‘first’ or ‘only’ when it came to emotional suffering.
When we surrender to this truth, we surrender to what equates to a glorious gift –one that we inherently and persistently fight receiving. The gift is the reprieve from our aloneness. We are never truly separate from the suffering of others; past, present, and future. A continuous thread moves through us and while each and every one of us feels like we are isolated in the uniqueness of our pain, in reality, we are all re-spinning the same collective experience. Who among us has been spared feelings of guilt, shame, anger, hate, resentment and the like? And how truly different are the stories told eons ago, from ones we saw in the theater last night? The stories are always built upon the same foundations; love, hate, fear, jealously, betrayal…..
Yet, when our hearts get broken, as they inevitably do, we tell ourselves that others couldn’t possibly understand. We hang onto thoughts such as “But their love wasn’t like our love…”. Perhaps in this way we feel special or more entitled to our despair, but in doing so, we also feel lonelier. When instead, we remember that we are but one of the same collective spirit, we can appreciate that while we feel incredibly deserted in our suffering there are those around us who know our pain intimately and who have endured despite their own hopelessness.
The metaphor of emotions as weather patterns is useful in opening our hearts to accepting life organically. Our emotions are like fronts that continuously gather, accumulate, release and gather again. We feel emotional discomfort and pain because along with the rest of the universal timepiece, we tick and tick again. We never stop ticking. And there could never be right ticking or wrong ticking just as there could never be right rain and wrong wind. It is simply rain and wind.
Someone said to me today “never apologize for your feelings”. I had to pause for more than a moment because as easily as I could have rushed right past the sentiment, I was struck by its magnitude. What an amazing gift indeed – one we should re-gift again and again.
Bringing RAIN to Difficulty: A guided reflection from Tara Brach’s new book “True Refuge”
Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance and True Refuge, introduces a guided insight meditation to help people in managing difficult emotions. In her most recent book, True Refuge she explains how to use the RAIN meditation, developed by Vipassana teacher Michele McDonald. RAIN stands for:
Recognize what is happening
Allow life to be just as it is;
Investigate inner experience with kindness
Here’s a guided reflection for applying RAIN in your own life, excerpted from True Refuge.
Guided Reﬂection: Bringing RAIN to Difﬁculty
Sitting quietly, close your eyes and take a few full breaths. Bring to mind a current situation in which you feel stuck; one that elicits a difﬁcult reaction such as anger or fear, shame or hopelessness. It may be a conﬂict with a family member, a chronic sickness, a failure at work, the pain of an addiction, a conversation you now regret. Take some moments to enter the experience—visualizing the scene or situation, remembering the words spoken, sensing the most distressing moments. Contacting the charged essence of the story is the starting place for exploring the healing presence of RAIN.
R: Recognize What Is Happening
As you reﬂect on this situation, ask yourself, “What is happening inside me right now?” What sensations are you most aware of? What emotions? Is your mind ﬁlled with churning thoughts? Take a moment to become aware of your “ felt sense” of the situation as a whole. Can you feel how the experience is living in your heart and body, as well as in your mind?
A: Allow Life to Be Just as It Is
Send a message to your heart to “let be” this entire experience. Find in yourself the willingness to pause and accept that in these moments, “what is . . . is.” You can experiment with mentally whispering words like “yes,” “I consent,” or “let be.” You might ﬁnd yourself saying yes to a huge inner no, to a body and mind pain- fully contracted in resistance. You might be saying yes to the part of you that is saying “I hate this!” That’s a natural part of the process. At this point in RAIN, you are simply noticing what is true, and intending not to judge, push away, or control anything you ﬁnd.
I: Investigate with an Intimate Attention
Now begin to explore what you are experiencing more closely, calling on your natural interest and curiosity about your inner life. You might ask yourself, “What about this most wants my attention?” or, “What most wants my acceptance?” Pose your questions gently, with your inner voice kind and inviting. Notice where you feel the experience most distinctly in your body. Are you aware of heat, tightness, pressure, aches, squeezing? When you have found the most intense part of your physical experience, bring it into your face, letting your expression mirror, and even exaggerate, what you are feeling in your body. What emotions are you aware of as you do this? Fear? Anger? Grief? Shame?
As you continue to investigate, you might ﬁnd it helpful to ask, “What am I believing?” If this leads to a lot of thinking, drop it. But you might ﬁnd that a very distinct belief emerges almost as soon as you ask. Do you believe that you are failing in some way? That someone will reject you? That you will not be able to handle whatever is around the corner? That you really are ﬂawed? That you will never be happy? How does this belief live in your body? What are the sensations? Tightness? Soreness? Burning? Hollowness?
As before, send the message of “yes,” “I consent,” or “let be,” allowing yourself to feel the fullness or intensity of the difﬁcult experience. As you contact and allow what is happening, what do you notice? Is there any softening in your body and heart? Can you sense more openness or space? Or does the intention to allow bring up more tension, judgment, and fear? Does it intensify or change what you are feeling?
Now ask the place of most difﬁculty, “What do you want from me?” or “What do you need from me?” Does this suffering part of you want recognition? Acceptance? Forgiveness? Love? As you sense what is needed, what is your natural response? You might offer yourself a wise message, or an energetic, tender embrace. You might gently place your hand on your heart. Feel free to experiment with ways of befriending your inner life—whether through words or touch, images or energy. Discover how your attention might become more intimate and loving.
N: Non-identiﬁcation: Rest in Natural Awareness
As you offer this unconditional, kind presence to your inner life, sense the possibility of relaxing back and being that awareness. Like an ocean with waves on the surface, feel yourself as the tender, wakeful openness that includes arising and passing sensations, emotions, thoughts. Can you sense how who you are is not identiﬁed by or hitched to any particular wave of fear or anger or hurt? Can you sense how the waves on the surface belong to your experience, but cannot injure or alter the measureless depth and vastness of your being? Take some moments, as long as you’d like, to simply rest in this spacious and kind awareness, allowing whatever arises in your body or mind to freely come and go. Know this natural awareness as the innermost truth of what you are.
From the book TRUE REFUGE by Tara Brach. Copyright (c) 2013 by Tara Brach. Reprinted by arrangement with Bantam Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.
Below is a video available on YouTube in which Tara Brach describes the practice of Vipassana meditation.
One of the tenets of the Buddha’s teachings is “Right Speech”, which refers to our need as civilized human beings to speak in truth and in non-harmful ways. This can be, for many of us, a particularly difficult rule to follow. It seems most societies have been conditioned to several forms of negative speech such as gossip, slander, and hurtful statements. We usually assume that so long as the victim doesn’t hear our hurtful words, our comments are ultimately harmless, but in reality that is not the case.
The energy of our words is powerful and may be used as immensely good or immensely bad. Henry Grayson, author of the book “Mindful Loving” conducted his own experiment to validate how an understanding of the new physics plays out in relationships. What he demonstrated was that after his car rides home from work, during which he ruminated about all the things that made him angry about his wife, she was either nowhere to be found when he got home or she was in an irritated and rejecting mood. However, after the drives during which he thought of all the things he loved about his wife, she frequently met him at the door, happy to see him.
We can say these are just coincidences, however research has often validated this finding. Besides, what would be the harm in following it as truth? As Grayson states “That which we focus on increases”, so if we direct our attention to things that make us happy, we will be more apt to find ourselves in better and more loving moods.
So as we move into the new year, consider implementing “Right Speech” into your communication habits and watch what manifests…
Image taken from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dharmachakra,_withprint_(en).svg
[whohit]Blog Right Speech[/whohit]
The Tension Between Being Right and Being Happy
Any relationship that has outlasted its honeymoon phase has eventually experienced the battle between being right and actually being happy. The divisiveness between what we believe in our hearts and minds to be true and to what our partners ascribe, is inevitable. The arguments can be deeply critical ones such as how to raise our children or less so, such as whose turn is it to clean up after the dog? We all have an opinion as to what’s right and what’s fair but when opinions don’t match up very well, we wind up hitting the relational brick wall.
But if I am sure I am right as much as you are sure of the same, then how do we expand our perceptions and opportunities for learning and compassion? Perhaps this is why the Buddha cautioned against becoming fixated on our beliefs, warning that in them we stilt our inherent nature to grow. It reminds me of a brilliant bumper sticker with a succinct and Yoda-like message, “Don’t believe everything you think”. And yet, we seem hard-wired to do just that.
Why are we, as a culture, so driven to be right? The question provokes myriad answers; our education system, our political system, even our religious affiliations; “My God is the right God”. It is easy to see why we strive for correctness. Even more compelling is what lurks on the opposite side of the equation – ‘wrongness’. Even the word ‘wrong’ conjures up so many associations, visualizations and emotions. Can we even think of a time when we were wrong and didn’t feel at least a small bit of embarrassment or shame? Even when our wrongness equated to a good thing – “I’m so relieved, I thought you were in an accident”, often follows with a pang of “What is wrong with me for jumping to crazy conclusions?” Most of us just aren’t good at making mistakes.
So our need to be right in our relationships is an understandable and even reasonable need. It makes sense given the structure of our world. But when it trumps our need to be kind and to be happy, we quickly realize that being right can come with a hefty price. Can we afford to allow our firmly held beliefs and strategizing egos to rule our intentions, when the sanctuary of our relationships thrive on something much more?
We have the option of coaching our ego aside when it is making its pitch to be right, encouraging it instead to see the bigger picture – our capacity for love! Because despite the realization that our human experiences motivate and influence rightness, we all have a deep and spiritual need to connect and to love. It only requires a mindful moment, a hesitation, or a pause, to slow down our reactive and defensive egos. Dr. Wayne Dyer says, “These moments ultimately expand your new connection to the power of intention. The universal Source will begin to collaborate with you in creating the life you were intended to live”. Sometimes it’s as simple as saying and instead of but, because this minute shift allows for two experiences, versus one, to exist. Easier said than done? You bet, but its all a matter of practice, and rewards are well worth the effort.
When people think of therapy they often think of the old notion of blaming mom. Those who’ve been around the therapy block enough times know that the adage holds a lot of truth, we talk about her….. a lot!
So why exactly do we pick on the one person who bore us, changed our diapers and fed us when we were hungry? Well…….
We are all born with an attachment system and its sole function is to help us connect to others. Our species’ evolution depends upon social interdependence since we cannot make it alone in the world. The way the attachment system works is via mirror neurons, which fire when we observe and interact with others. Ever notice you yawn when you see someone else yawn, or your mouth waters when someone else is eating something sour? This is the brain’s way of connecting us to others, making us feel what others feel.
That is why it is so important when mothers mirror their infants, smiling when they smile, frowning when they frown etc. Because when our moms ‘get us’ we get ourselves, even as infants. But when instead mothers respond contrary to their infants, the dissonance causes a disruption in the bonding exchange. For example, when mothers respond to their infants who are smiling and cooing, with stress or sadness, infants will begin to feel a disconnect between their feelings and needs and the world as they experience it. Instead of sensing a responsive and caring environment, the infant feels insecure and unsafe.
The early experiences that we have before we can even speak, get coded in our brain as implicit memory. We don’t realize we have these memories, and yet there they are, taking up real estate in our neocortex. Then when these implicit memories are activated later in life, we don’t realize we are ‘remembering’ but rather we assume that’s just the way we feel.
During the course of our lifetime, our implicit memories become our working models, with which we predict and expect others to behave and react to us. It also impacts the way we see the world.
It is rarely the intention of the caregiver to do anything to negatively impact the relational experience, however, neurobiology overrides the best of intentions. And while it can certainly ride out bad days here and there, our attachment system accumulates our experiences over time.
So next time your therapist asks about your relationship with mom, trust that its not about blame as much as it’s about gaining insight into our implicit memories and how they are affecting our lives today.
Check out this YouTube video for a real life demonstration:
When we apply an understanding of neuroplasticity, i.e., how the brain’s neurological functioning adapts to change, we can appreciate that we all have the capacity to heal from past trauma and wounding interpersonal experiences. Just as our wiring can be negatively altered from painful exchanges (e.g., resulting in faulty reactionary systems such as a hypersensitivity to threat), so may it heal from new and positive experiences. For example, when we share with people we trust and receive in return love and kindness, we become open to the potential for a corrective emotional experience (a positive experience that can override and even heal prior negative experiences). It’s almost as if our brains are subject to an autoimmune response in that when we are mistreated by others, we tend to turn on ourselves. However, when we are appropriately nourished and cared for, we develop a stable and resilient neurological system – and the new science is showing that it’s never too late to get that which has been deprived.
The motivation to build and maintain positive relationships is amplified when we recognize how our neurological functioning is impacted. Research has demonstrated that kind words, patience, understanding and validation from others literally enhances our immune systems. Our resilience to stress becomes stronger and we are able to face difficult times with less depression, anxiety and fear. When we consider just how powerful these small opportunities can be, we can allow ourselves to be inspired by their incredible potential.
Check out this YouTube video: