Empty The Cup

Are you full to the rim? The Practice: Empty the cup. Why?Once upon a time, a scholar came to visit a saint. After the scholar had been orating and propounding for a while, the saint proposed some tea. She slowly filled the scholar's cup: gradually the tea rose to the very brim and began spilling over onto the table, yet she kept pouring and pouring. The scholar burst out: "Stop! You can't add anything to something that's already full!" The saint set down the teapot and replied, … [Read more...]

Remember The Big Things

What matters most to you? The Practice: Remember the big things. Why?In every life, reminders arrive about what's really important.I've recently received one myself, in a form that's already come to countless people and will come to countless more: news of a potentially serious health problem. My semi-annual dermatology mole check turned up a localized melanoma cancer in my ear that will need to come out immediately. The prognosis is very positive - this thing is "non-invasive" - but … [Read more...]

Rest

Busy, busy? The Practice: Rest. Why?This practice is definitely a case of teaching what you need to learn: I've been working through a big bucket of tasks lately with little chance to rest. (I console myself with knowing that the bucket is emptying a lot faster than it's filling with new tasks.)Sometimes you can really feel what you need to do by feeling what's happening for you when you don't. "Don't," that is: ease up, unwind, recharge, put your feet up, take a load off, just … [Read more...]

Put No One Out of Your Heart

What is an open heart? The Practice Put no one out of your heart. Why?We all know people who are, ah, . . . challenging. It could be a critical parent, a bossy supervisor, a relative who has you walking on eggshells, a nice but flaky friend, a co-worker who just doesn't like you, a partner who won't keep his or her agreements, or a politician you dislike. Right now I'm thinking of a neighbor who refused to pay his share of a fence between us.As Jean-Paul Sartre put it: "Hell is other … [Read more...]

Tune Into Others

What Are They Feeling? The Practice Tune into others. Why?Imagine a world in which people interacted with each other like ants or fish. Imagine a day at work like this, or in your family, aware of the surface behavior of the people around you but oblivious to their inner life while they remain unmoved by your own.That's a world without empathy. To me, it sounds like a horror film.Without empathy, there can be no real love, compassion, kindness, or friendship. Empathic breakdowns shake … [Read more...]

Drop The Case

Who are you prosecuting? The Practice Drop the case. Why? Lately I've been thinking about a kind of "case" that's been running in my mind about someone in my extended family. The case is a combination of feeling hurt and mistreated, critique of the other person, irritation with others who haven't supported me, views about what should happen that hasn't, and implicit taking-things-personally. In other words, the usual mess.It's not that I have not been mistreated - actually, I have been - nor … [Read more...]

Don’t Take it Personally

Is it about you? The Practice Don't take it personally. Why?Here’s an updated parable from the ancient Taoist teacher, Chuang-Tzu: Imagine that you are floating in a canoe on a slow-moving river, having a Sunday picnic with a friend. Suddenly there is a loud thump on the side of the canoe, and it rolls over. You come up sputtering, and what do you see? Somebody has snuck up on your canoe, flipped it over for a joke, and is laughing at you. How do you feel?OK. Now imagine the exact same s … [Read more...]

See the Person Behind the Eyes

Who is behind the mask? The Practice See the person behind the eyes. Why? Most of us wear a kind of mask, a persona that hides our deepest thoughts and feelings, and presents a polished, controlled face to the world. To be sure, a persona is a good thing to have. For example, meetings at work, holidays with the in-laws, or a first date are usually not the best time to spill your guts. Just because you're selective about what you reveal to the world does not mean you're insincere; phoniness is … [Read more...]

Keep Hope Not Fear Alive

This recent series of posts has used the example of Stephen Colbert's satirical "March to Keep Fear Alive" as a timely illustration of a larger point: humans evolved to be fearful -- a major feature of the brain's negativity bias that helped our ancestors pass on their genes. Consequently, as much research has shown, we're usually much more affected by negative -- by which I mean painful -- experiences than by positive ones.Besides the personal impacts of this bias in the brain, it also makes … [Read more...]

Confronting the Negativity Bias

My previous post used the example of Stephen Colbert's satirical "March to Keep Fear Alive" as a timely illustration of a larger point: humans evolved to be fearful -- since that helped keep our ancestors alive -- so we are very vulnerable to being frightened and even intimidated by threats, both real ones and "paper tigers." With this march, Colbert is obviously mocking those who play on fear, since we certainly don't need any new reminders to keep fear alive.Some Background This … [Read more...]


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