The Awakening Factor of Samadhi

Here is a talk from the San Rafael Meditation group with Rick Hanson. It is titled, “The Awakening Factor of Samadhi”.

More information on the San Rafael Meditation group can be found here.

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Stentors: The Tiny Giants

Rick’s Picks is a series of posts highlighting the very best content online.

In this amazing video, a researcher at the University of California San Francisco, talks about  “Tiny Giants” that ink like squid and regenerate like Wolverine!

“Stentor” sounds like a dinosaur or a minor He-Man villain. But in fact the stentor is one of the strangest, most mysterious organisms on Earth, and it just might be swimming in a pond near you. It’s made up of a single cell so massive you can see it with the naked eye. It’s got a genome organized like nothing else, as Marshall, a researcher at the University of California San Francisco, and colleagues reported last month in Current Biology. And it might just help Marshall and other scientists figure out how to bestow humans with the power of regeneration.”

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Ask Questions

What are you learning?

The Practice:
Ask questions.


My dad grew up on a ranch in North Dakota. He has a saying from his childhood – you may have heard it elsewhere – that’s: “You learn more by listening than by talking.”

Sure, we often gain by thinking out loud, including discovering our truth by speaking it. But on the whole, listening brings lots more valuable information than talking does.

Nonetheless, many people are not the greatest listeners. (You’ve probably noticed this already: at work, at home, when you’re trying to work something out with your partner . . .) What’s it feel like when they don’t listen to you? Or maybe listen, but don’t inquire further? It’s not good. Besides missing out on important information – including, often most importantly, your underlying feelings and wants – they’re sending the implicit message that they’re not that interested (even though, deep down, they might be).

Then turn it around: what do you think they feel like if you don’t listen that well to them? Not very good either.

Being a good listener brings many benefits: gathering useful information, making others feel like they matter to you, sustaining a sense of connection with people, and stepping out of your own familiar frame of reference.

One of the best ways to listen well is to ask questions. It makes you an active listener, it shows that you’ve been paying attention, it can get things out in the open (Mommy, is that emperor parading in his boxers?!), and it slows down emotional conversations so they don’t get out of hand.


As a therapist, I ask questions for a living. Plus I’ve been married a long time through thick and thin, and raised two kids. As they say in medicine: good judgment comes from experience . . . and experience comes from bad judgment. So I offer some fruits of my bad judgments!

  • Questions can be nonverbal. A raised eyebrow, a nod to say more, or simply letting there be a bit of silence are all signals to the other person to keep going.
  • Have good intentions. Don’t ask questions like a prosecutor. It’s fine to try to get to the bottom of things – whether it’s what bothered your mate the most about her conversation with her friend, or what your son is actually doing this Saturday night, or what your role is supposed to be in an upcoming business meeting. But don’t use questions to make others look bad.
  • Keep the tone gentle. Remember that being asked a question – particularly, a series of questions – can feel invasive, critical, or controlling to the person on the receiving end; think of all the times that kids get asked questions as a prelude to a scolding or other punishment. You could check in with the other person to make sure your questions are welcome. Slow questions down so they don’t come rat-tat-tat. And intersperse them with self-disclosure that matches, more or less, the emotional depth of what the other person is saying; this way they’re not putting all their cards on the table while you keep yours close to the chest.
  • As appropriate, persist in getting a clear answer. If you sense there’s still some problematic fuzziness or wiggle room in the other person’s answers, or simply more to learn, you could ask the question again, maybe in a different way. Or explain – without accusation – why you’re still unclear about what the other person is saying. Or ask additional questions that could help surface the deeper layers of the other person’s thoughts, feelings, and intentions.
  • Different kinds of questions are appropriate for different situations. For example, trying to get clearer about a project your boss wants you to do is definitely not like a delicate inquiry into what might help things go better in a physically intimate relationship. Questions about facts or plans are usually pretty straightforward. For the murkier, more emotionally charged territory of friends and family, here are some possibilities:

How was _______ for you?
What do you appreciate about _______ ? What bothers (or worries) you about _______ ? Are there other things you’re feeling (or wanting) besides ______?
What did this remind you of?
What did you wish had happened, instead?
What’s the most important thing here, for you?
What would it look like if you got what you wanted here? (Or: “. . . what you wanted from me?”)
How would you like it to be from now on?
Could you say more about _______ ?

If your intentions are good, it’s really OK to ask questions. Usually, people welcome them. Take confidence in your good intentions and good heart.

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Oneness Podcast

In this podcast, I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Rick Hanson, a psychologist and New York Times bestselling author. We spoke about how Western Buddhism, transcendental learning and gratitude for opportunity all play an important role in getting in touch with your faith and finding true purpose and happiness in life. Join us to hear more about Dr. Hanson’s own journey as well as his valuable insights into Buddhism and neuroscience.

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The Neurology of Intention

The Neurology of Intention

Our intentions arise in the brain, are represented in the brain, and are pursued in the brain. Where else?  Therefore, a basic understanding of how intentions work in the brain – and thus in your mind – is a very useful thing to have.

The Executive Functions

The brain is like a committee, with many parts or “members” working together – or at cross purposes! – and the frontal lobes are like the chair of that committee. Or, to use a different metaphor, if the psyche altogether is a vast land, with a capital and many provinces, the frontal lobes are like the city manager of the capital.

But of course that does not mean that they are the owner of the country! An error the frontal lobes, and the self structures that identify with them, tend to make. To the loss and often the rebellion of the provinces . . .

As you can observe in your own experience, it is possible to have effective “executive functions” in the mind – those capacities that plan, organize, monitor, and direct – without much if any sense of personal self in the mix.

A Proper Balance

To be sure, those executive functions are very important. A healthy nation needs both its capital and its provinces. Balance is everything, in the brain as in life. “The middle way . . . “ You might ask yourself, are you tilted either way:

• Toward an excess of executive functions, too much top-down control, not enough life breathing in the provinces, too much “head” and not enough “body” or “heart,” too much regulation, suppression and scorn directed at parts of the self, too many high judges and critics in the mind scolding the inner children and the passions, too much superego and not enough id, living too much behind city gates and not enjoying and exploring enough the rich and fertile lands outside those walls

• Toward an excess of unruly provinces, too much influence bubbling up from the bottom, not enough self-control, flooded with affect, impulsive and inattentive, a mental popcorn machine

Most of us are, indeed, tilted too much one way or another not just as a temporary imbalance but as a longstanding tendency. Certain moments call for more from the “capital” and others for more from the “provinces,” and being able to move nimbly in one direction or another without limitation or creakiness is very helpful in navigating the twists and turns of life.

So, when you see which way you are tilted, then restoring greater balance – and becoming stronger and more able with the other aspect of the psyche – can become a strategic goal for growth.

The primary way to develop your “weak suit,” in terms of optimal balance for yourself, is simply to identify the elements of it that you want to strengthen, and keep them in mind. That will mobilize resources for yourself over time that will gradually build up those capacities. Truly, 50% of personal growth is identifying the issue – whatever it is – and committing to work on it. Just that! Which is really very good news.

Held in a proper balance, establishing clear intentions – which are a way the frontal lobes call the other members of the committee to order and establish what the agenda is – is a powerful, skillful means to getting anything good done either inside your own head and heart or in the outer world.

This post is Part 1 in a series about on Wholesome Intentions, based on this full article by Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

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Alphabet of the Heart Podcast

Rick’s Picks is a series of posts highlighting the very best content online.

This Podcast Series features Dr James R. Doty, Neurosurgeon and Director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research Education (CCARE) at Stanford University, and Dr James Kirby, Clinical Psychologist and Visiting Scholar at CCARE. Each episode features Dr Doty and Dr Kirby discussing a mnemonic Dr Doty created called, “The Alphabet of the Heart”, which he wrote about in his book, “Into the Magic Shop”.

Here is the Alphabet of the Heart Poster which serves asa reminder of 10 steps along the journey towards compassion and mindfulness. Dr. Doty uses this mnemonic in his own meditation practice.

Download This File

More here:

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True Happiness

Is there a particular type of mindset keeps us from finding true happiness ? For our ancestors to survive, they learned to find the bad in situations. In today’s modern age, the human mind is still programmed to latch onto the bad even though that mindset is unnecessary.On this episode with Dr. Rick Hanson, a New York Times best-selling author, he explains the neuroscience behind true happiness, what it means, and how we can find it.Key Takeaways:arrow-iconWe’ve got a brain that’s like Velcro for bad experiences but Teflon for good experiences.arrow-iconWhen you ruminate about negative stuff, you reinforce it.arrow-icon“How do you grow the good” is the key question to having true happiness.arrow-iconYou can slow down by taking three deep breaths in a row.arrow-iconWhen you slow down, you hardwire yourself to have true happiness.arrow-iconStop negativity as fast as you can.arrow-iconMarinade yourself in delightful experiences.arrow-iconWell-being is important because it fuels us for the long haul. 
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The Awakening Factor of Joy

Here is a talk from the San Rafael Meditation group with Rick Hanson. It is titled, “The Awakening Factor of Joy” More information on the San Rafael Meditation group can be found here.

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A Fictive Flight Above Real Mars

Rick’s Picks is a series of posts highlighting the very best content online.

This is a great video posted by Jan Fröjdman showing some incredible images of Mars.

For more images and info, please visit Jan’s blog:

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How Gratitude Can Change Your Life

Dr Robert Emmons, Professor of Psychology at the University of California and author of Thanks! How The New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier has been researching gratitude for over eight years and states:

Without gratitude, life can be lonely, depressing and impoverished. Gratitude enriches human life. It elevates, energizes, inspires and transforms, and those who practice it will experience significant improvements in several areas of life including relationships, academics, energy level and even dealing with tragedy and crisis.

What’s really interesting is that despite all of the scientific evidence and research that demonstrates the ability of gratitude to impact positive change to mood, motivation and mindset, the daily practice of gratitude is not a widely adopted habit within our ‘quick-fix, instant gratification’ society.

What Are The Benefits Of A Gratitude Practice And Does It Really Work?

Gratitude, like Mindfulness, is a term and concept that’s become increasingly trendy over the last few years and the benefits of its practice are regularly written about in a variety of mainstream newspapers, magazines and blogs.Forbes Magazine last year published an article titled 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round and listed the following benefits:
  • Gratitude opens the door to more relationships
  • Gratitude improves physical health
  • Gratitude improves psychological health
  • Gratitude improves empathy and reduces aggression
  • Grateful people sleep better
  • Gratitude improves self-esteem
  • Gratitude increases mental strength
Around three years ago I started my own gratitude practice. It’s had more of a positive impact on my life than any other decision I’ve ever made.Prior to adopting gratitude I was going through a difficult time in my life. My relationship was in the process of breaking down, a family member was battling a terminal disease, and I wasn’t taking very good care of myself. I was caught in the familiar trap of eating badly, not exercising much, working too hard and I often felt tired and overwhelmed.Knowing that I needed to make some changes in my life but not really sure where to start, I noticed that I was seeing the word gratitude everywhere I went. Seeing this word so often grabbed my attention and I was intrigued. Despite my skepticism that something as simple as expressing appreciation could make a difference to my state of mind, I was curious enough to give it a try.Over the course of three months I was humbled and amazed by the impact that focusing on gratitude began to have on my life. Day by day, I felt calmer and more at peace and my overall energy levels and enthusiasm for life started to rise.Within a couple of months…
  • I was sleeping better
  • Exercising more
  • My mood felt lighter and more joyful
  • I had increased focus at work
  • I felt less stressed and irritable
  • I was happier and more content
What this experience proved to me is that incorporating a gratitude practice into your life is one of the best and easiest decisions you can make for your own well-being.It can help you to make more positive choices, take better care of yourself, feel empowered and to develop a positive ‘can do’ attitude to life.It’s now been three years since I started this journey of gratitude and the benefits continue to grow and flourish, making it a very important part of my daily routine.Gratitude2 

Why Should I Start A Gratitude Practice?

As humans, we’re not hard-wired to be grateful – it doesn’t come naturally to us. It’s often so much easier to have a grumble, complain, and think about all the areas in our life where we’re experiencing pain or hardship.Sometimes it’s not having enough money in the bank, or that our partner doesn’t understand us, or the crazy commute we have to endure in heavy traffic to get to work each day. Whatever the reason, it seems to be human nature to focus on what’s going wrong in our lives or to dwell on what we don’t have, leading to a sense of powerlessness over how we feel.The downside of this habit is that it’s incredibly seductive. The saying “misery loves company” has a great deal of truth in it and there’s generally no shortage of people around us to indulge in our complaining.When I look back at the sort of person I was three years ago, the lens through which I viewed the world was decidedly negative. I often felt like I had limited control over the events that happened to me and the impact they had on my life. It felt normal to feel sad and to have low energy, because that’s what I told myself was to be expected when challenges hit you. Phrases like “it’s not fair”, “why is this happening to me?” and “is this really all there is to life?” played frequently in my head, and I felt powerless to do anything about it.

“When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.”

̴Lao Tzu ̴

A commitment to living a life of gratitude has thankfully reversed that attitude, but it’s a skill that takes some practicing and getting used to. As our gratitude practice becomes more sensitive by focusing on what’s good in our life along with all of the blessings surrounding us, a certain magic begins to take hold. It’s as if we send a message out to the universe to say “more of this please”, which then causes the positive experiences in our life to flourish and grow.As you flex and work your gratitude muscle every day, it gets stronger. And as it develops, so does the realization and experience that it’s possible to have a choice about how we respond to the challenges and hurdles that life presents us, without getting sucked into a complaining mindset or feeling anxious about what we don’t have.As a result, gratitude will impact and transform your life in so many ways:
  • Contentment becomes stronger than dissatisfaction
  • Peace becomes stronger than frustration
  • Appreciation becomes stronger than criticism and complaining
  • And resilience to life’s challenges increases
Overall, life just becomes sweeter and more fun through practicing gratitude. And the happier and more contented we are, the kinder we become to those around us – meaning all that come into contact with us begin to feel the benefits too.RippleEffect 

What If I Can’t Think Of Anything To Be Grateful For?

This is a common question that I’ve been asked by people who are new to gratitude practice and are feeling some uncertainty about whether it’s for them or not.I think when this question arises it’s often evidence of some mind games and inner resistance at work, and a way that the ego behaves to try and talk us out of making some positive, empowered changes in our lives.It’s true that there are some days and some circumstances in life when it can feel a little harder to tap into that reservoir of gratitude than others, especially when hardship, illness or even death may be present. But as you’ll discover when you begin practicing gratitude, harder doesn’t necessarily mean impossible, and there will always be things that you’ll be able to identify and create a sense of appreciation for each day.It can be as simple as “Today I’m grateful that I’m alive”, or “Today I’m grateful that I have a roof over my head and food in my fridge when so many in the world are going without”.The intention with gratitude is not to put pressure on yourself to positive-think your way out of painful experiences, or to deny their existence. Nor is it to create long lists that don’t have any meaning for you and feel false or insincere. The aim is simply to direct your focus away from dwelling on what’s not going well in life, whilst still acknowledging the existence of the pain. Cultivating an attitude of appreciation for the blessings life has to offer, no matter how small they may be, brings you back to the present moment and allows more space to open up to all that there is to be grateful for.Gratitude3

What Should I Expect To See Or Feel When I Start Practicing Gratitude Every Day?

If you’ve never adopted a gratitude practice before, it may initially feel a little bit strange and there may be moments when you wonder ‘Is this really making any difference?’ This is completely normal and happens to almost everyone at the start.I initially felt very skeptical that gratitude could have any meaningful impact on my state of mind and mood, but as with anything new in life, it can take some time to see a benefit, so stick with it and be open to the fact that this is a skill and habit that takes time to cultivate.

Recent research led by a team at University College London has shown that contrary to the popular belief that it takes 21 days to form a habit, it actually takes on average 66 days for something to become habitual.

My practice was pretty basic at the beginning. I would think of three things that I was grateful for when I woke up in the morning and another three things before I went to sleep at night. Nothing fancy, and nothing detailed, my observations were simple items of appreciation like my health, my family, and having a nice place to live. Some days it was definitely harder to think of things than others, but I made myself go through the process every day.After about a month I noticed that I was becoming more aware of my surroundings and had a greater level of sensitivity to observe those moments that touched me and made me feel appreciative. Things like:
  • the kindness and warmth of the barista that made my coffee
  • the stranger that looked me in the eye and smiled at me in the street
  • the joy I felt when I walked past a jasmine bush and inhaled its beautiful scent
As I was accumulating so many more items to choose from, I started to write the gratitude items down at the end of the day instead of just thinking them. Science has proven that when you write about a happy event your brain relives that experience, which then adds more power and weight to the gratitude exercise.I now experience it as replaying a movie of the day in my head and capturing all of the beautiful and precious moments down on paper to keep in my gratitude jar, which is a hugely enjoyable way to end the day. There are many other ways to practice gratitude though and everyone finds a style and method that best suits them.
  • One study where participants were asked to write down their gratitude items for 21 days reported feeling more optimistic, less anxious, and slept better both immediately and for three to six months after the study.
  • Another study showed that participants who kept a gratitude journal for 10 weeks reported having fewer health problems and spent more time exercising.

One of the easiest ways to commit to any new habit is to connect in with a group of like-minded people for support and encouragement until it becomes a natural part of life. As I’ve described, the effect of gratitude is cumulative and the benefits ultimately change your perception of reality over time so it’s important to have patience and persistence with your gratitude practice.


“The more you practice gratitude, the more you see how much there is to be grateful for, and your life becomes an ongoing celebration of joy and happiness”

̴Don Miguel Ruiz ̴



Catherine Robertson is a business development executive with 15 years experience in the pharmaceutical industry, a part-time Reiki Practitioner with a healing practice on Sydney’s Northern Beaches and an experienced public speaker. Her personal story of transformation is featured in the book Heart to Heart: The Path to Wellness: 43 Inspiring True Stories of Creating Vibrant Health and Harmony in Body, Mind & Spirit.You can learn more about Catherine at her website post How Gratitude Can Change Your Life appeared first on Dr. Rick Hanson.

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