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 … [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...]

We Don’t Need To ‘Keep Fear Alive’

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have dueling rallies in DC coming soon. Stewart's is "Rally to Restore Sanity" and Colbert's is "March to Keep Fear Alive!" Obviously, Colbert is a great satirist who is poking fun here, since we sure don't need a rally to keep fear alive. Alarming messages are all around us, like the news about global warming or the "Threat Level Orange" announcements every few minutes in the airport. Some of those messages are true and worth heeding. For example, dumping … [Read more...]

Balancing Joining and Separating

There is a natural balance within us all between the desire for joining and the desire for separation, between the desire for closeness and the desire for distance. These two great themes – joining and separation – are central to human life. Almost everyone wants both of them, to varying degrees. People tend to focus a lot on the joining theme, both because relationships are about – uh – joining, and because spiritual practice of any kind is fundamentally about coming into relationship … [Read more...]

You Can Feel Safer

Feeling safer is a tricky subject, with complications that can be both personal and political. (This topic and others are explored in depth in my interview with New Dimensions.) Yes, there are real threats out there, but evolution and other factors have left a lot of us walking around in a kind of paranoid trance. I've been there myself, and the results include feeling less peaceful and hopeful, and more worried and cranky, than is right. So I hope you find this post helpful. Is There Really … [Read more...]

21 Ways To Turn Ill Will to Good Will

My recent posts have highlighted two very powerful, yet opposing forces in the human heart: in a traditional metaphor, we each have a wolf of love and a wolf of hate inside us, and it all depends on which one we feed every day. On the one hand, as the most social and loving species on the planet, we have the wonderful ability and inclination to connect with others, be empathic, cooperate, care, and love. On the other hand, we also have the capacity and inclination to be fearfully aggressive … [Read more...]

How Did Humans Become Empathic?

Empathy is unusual in the animal kingdom. So empathy must have had some major survival benefits for it to have evolved. What might those benefits have been? Empathy seems to have evolved in three major steps. First, among vertebrates, birds and mammals developed ways of rearing their young, plus forms of pair bonding – sometimes for life. This is very different from the pattern among fish and reptile species, most of which make their way in life alone. Pair bonding and rearing of young … [Read more...]

The Wolf of Hate

I heard a story once about a Native American elder who was asked how she had become so wise, so happy, and so respected. She answered: “In my heart, there are two wolves: a wolf of love and a wolf of hate. It all depends on which one I feed each day.” This story always gives me a little shiver. It’s both humbling and hopeful. First, the wolf of love is very popular, but who among us does not also harbor a wolf of hate? We can hear its snarling both far away in distant wars and close to … [Read more...]