10/16/10 | #45 

 

Just One Thing



Just One Thing (JOT) is the free newsletter that suggests a simple practice each week that will bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind.


A small thing repeated each day adds up over time to produce big results.

Just one thing that could change your life.

( Rick Hanson, 2010)

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This newsletter comes from Rick Hanson, Ph.D., neuropsychologist, founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom,  PsychologyToday.com contributor, and meditation teacher.

See Rick's workshops and lectures for therapists and the general public.
 
My Offerings
Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom - Written with a neurologist, Richard Mendius, M.D., and with a Foreword by Daniel Siegel, M.D. and a Preface by Jack Kornfield, Ph.D., it's full of effective ways to use your mind to change your brain to benefit your whole being.
Stress-Proof Your Brain -Meditations to rewire neural pathways for stress relief and unconditional happiness.

Meditations to Change Your Brain - Three CDs of powerful guided practices, plus practical suggestions, for personal transformation.
  Meditations for Happiness - Downloadable program (3 CDs worth) on gratitude, inner protectors, and coming home to happiness.
Are you feeling unneeded pain?
The Practice
Minimize painful experiences.
Why?
Painful experiences range from subtle discomfort to extreme anguish - and there is a place for them. Sorrow can open the heart, anger can highlight injustices, fear can alert you to real threats, and remorse can help you take the high road next time.

But is there really any shortage of suffering in this world? Look at the faces of others - including mine - or your own in the mirror, and see the marks of weariness, irritation, stress, disappointment, longing, and worry. There's plenty of challenge in life already - including unavoidable illness, loss of loved ones, old age, and death - without needing a bias in your brain to give you an extra dose of pain each day.

Yet as my last JOT explored, your brain evolved exactly such a "negativity bias" in order to help your ancestors pass on their genes - a bias that produces lots of collateral damage today.

Painful experiences are more than passing discomforts. They produce lasting harms to your physical and mental health. When you're feeling frazzled, pressured, down, hard on yourself, or simply frustrated, that:
  Weakens your immune system
  Impairs nutrient absorption in your gastrointestinal system
  Increases vulnerabilities in your cardiovascular system
  Decreases your reproductive hormones; exacerbates PMS
  Disturbs your nervous system

Consider the famous saying: "Neurons that wire together, fire together." This means that repeated painful experiences - even mild ones - tend to:
  Increase pessimism, anxiety, and irritability
  Lower your mood
  Reduce ambition and positive risk-taking

In a couple, upsetting experiences foster mistrust, heightened sensitivity to relatively small issues, distance, and vicious cycles. At much larger scales - between groups or nations - they do much the same.

So don't take painful experiences lightly, neither the ones you get nor, honestly, the ones you give. Prevent them when you can, and help them pass through when you can't.
How?
This week, take a stand for yourself, for feeling as good as you reasonably can. A stand for bearing painful experiences when they walk through the door - and a stand for encouraging them to keep on walking, all the way out of your mind.

This is not being at war with discomfort or distress, which would just add negativity, like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. Instead, it is being kind to yourself, wise and realistic about the toxic effects of painful experiences.

In effect, you're simply saying to yourself something you'd say to a dear friend in pain: I want you to feel better, and I'm going to help you. Try saying that to yourself in your mind right now. How does it feel?

When emotional pain does come, even softly, try to hold it in a large space of awareness. In a traditional metaphor, imagine stirring a big spoon of salt into a cup of water and then drinking it: yuck. But then imagine stirring that spoonful into a clean bucket of water and then drinking a cup: it's the same amount of salt - the same amount of worry or frustration, feeling inadequate or blue - but held in a larger context. Notice that awareness is without any edges, boundless like the sky, with thoughts and feelings passing through.

In your mind, watch out for how negative information, events, or experiences can seem to overpower positive ones. For example, researchers have found that people typically will work harder or put up with more crud to avoid losing something than to gain the same thing. And they feel more contaminated by one fault than they feel cleansed or elevated by several virtues. Try to switch this around; for instance, pick some of your good qualities and keep seeing how they show up in your life this week.

Be careful whenever you feel stymied, frustrated, or disappointed. Humans (and other mammals) are very vulnerable to what's called "learned helplessness" - developing a sense of futility, immobilization, and passivity. Focus on where you can make a difference, where you do have power; it may only be inside your own mind, but that's better than nothing at all.

In your relationships, be mindful of reacting more strongly to one negative event than to a bunch of positive ones. For example, studies have shown that it typically takes several positive interactions to make up for a single negative encounter. Pick an important relationship, and then really pay attention to what's working in it; let yourself feel good about these things. Deal with the problems in this relationship, sure, but keep them in perspective.

Overall, whenever you remember, deliberately tilt toward the positive in your mind. That's not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Given the negativity bias in the brain, you're only leveling the playing field.