May 2014

(1) Notice when you get “hooked” – Shenpa

  • Begin to clearly notice the hook  – may feel like a tightening, tension or heat
  • Shenpa is human nature, not problematic in and of itself
  • We get carried away in the momentum of the hook, caught in a habitual pattern
  • It’s like the “itch” of a mosquito bite and then we feel the need to scratch it
  • Shenpa is the tiny spark, our reaction is the kerosene that can take the spark into a full blown forest fire
  • The Kerosene is our thoughts, talking to ourselves and fueling the fire.  We will justify our pattern of behavior by thinking we have the “right to react”  and we talk ourselves into our reaction, justify it,  but this sets off a chain reaction which results in unhappiness and unease.  This reaction is often motivated by our desire to escape this uneasiness and underlying discomfort (blame someone else for example) — this is the desire to scratch the itch.

(2) Learn to “Choose a fresh alternative” – Relax, Open Up and Be with it

  • Do something different
  • We often act in a way that only strengthens our unhealthy habits of resentment, anger, blame, etc.
  • This habitual response only entrenches us in our patterns of behavior
  • Try to NOTICE the feeling of being hooked and then PAUSE and simply sit with that feeling
  • Remember that these feelings are fluid, impermanent, temporary
  • If we don’t feed the spark, it will go away.  If we get into a habit of not feeding it, it will stop hooking us.

(3) Make this a life long journey to experience freedom, joy and happiness

  • Make this a way of life
  • Two Habitual Responses to the Hook:   (1) Repressing or denying it OR (2) Acting Out as we move into the storyline, which makes our experience very solid
  • Choose a fresh alternative and learn to let go of the story
  • We need to do this with Lovingkindeness to ourselves – don’t beat yourself up for feeling  a certain way or for getting “hooked” as this will add shenpa on top of shenpa, be kind and forgiving of yourself without adding additional negativity towards yourself.
  • Positive Groundlessness – simply experiencing the rawness of what is may result in feeling a sense of groundlessness.  We feel we need something to ground us which may be our anger, for example, but this groundlessness can be positive.  In this space of positive groundlessness, we see that there is no need to hold onto to bias, preference, hatred, anger.  This is a scary place as there is a sense of no ground beneath our feet, no fixed point of reference or view to hang on to.  But this groundlessness is also filled with positive qualities such as vastness, openness, freedom, limitless potential and nothing to hold us back from joy and happiness.
  • Mindful Awareness Practice  helps us sit with the “hook” and learn to be with this feeling.  It also helps us to PAUSE when we are hooked, recognize the feeling and that it is only temporary (learn to sit with the itch), and choose a fresh alternative, a path that helps us move through life with greater ease and happiness.


Weekly Wisdom #37

by cheryl on May 30, 2014

in Weekly Wisdom

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou


Week Four:  Finding Real Happiness – An Exploration of What Really Makes Us Happy and How to Get More of It.

Positive Psychology is the scientific study of optimal human functioning.  Historically, the field of psychology looks at treating mental illness or dysfunction.  Positive psychology, however, looks to understand the positive, adaptive, creative and emotionally fulfilling aspects of human behavior.

Flow, as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is the state of optimal attention and immersion during an activity.  Finding one’s flow leads to greater happiness and sense of wellbeing.

How do you know if you are in your flow?

  1. You lose awareness of time (“lose yourself in something”)
  2. You aren’t thinking about yourself (self-consciousness disappears)
  3. You aren’t interrupted by extraneous thoughts
  4. You have clear goals but aren’t focused on the finish line, the activity itself is the reward
  5. You are active, not passive (not watching TV)
  6. You work effortlessly, the activity is not easy but everything is clicking and seems effortless
  7. Balance between challenge and skill
  8. No worry of failure
  9. You want to repeat the experience

Happiness must combine both pleasure and meaning, providing both present and future gain.

The Hamburger Analogy (Tal Ben-Shahar)

(1) Bacon Double Cheeseburger – Hedonistic Pleasure –  unhealthy but tasty hamburger, will bring immediate short-term pleasure but have the opposite effect on our long-term feeling of wellbeing.

(2) Tasteless Veggie Burger (the ones that taste like cardboard) – Doing everything for the long term goal, but with no short term enjoyment – might bring us negative emotions while we’re eating it but brings us long-term benefits.

(3) Eating a Healthy by Tasty Burger – finding out what things in life can bring both immediate and long-term happiness; that is, a meal that is both tasty and healthy.

Finding our Happiness:

(1) We must deal with the Past-  exercise gratitude and forgiveness. Once we must become aware of what at we are feeling, we can better understand what is causing us anger, resentment, etc.  By becoming aware of it, we can lessen its grip on it, accept it as it is and learn to let it go. We cannot let it go until we become aware of it and accept it.

(2) Happiness in the Present – breaking habituation, savoring experiences and using mindfulness as ways to increase happiness in the present

(3) Finding Meaning and Purpose –  While the pleasant life might bring more positive emotions to one’s life, to foster a deeper more enduring happiness, we need to explore the realm of meaning. Without the application of one’s unique strengths and the development of one’s virtues towards an end bigger than one’s self, one’s potential tends to be whittled away by a mundane, inauthentic, empty pursuit of pleasure. (Martin Seligman)

More reading: NYTimes articles

Advice from Life’s Graying Edges on Finishing with NO Regrets

– The Joy of Quiet

Mindfulness Tools for Finding Happiness

(1) Be Present – Practice Being, rather than Doing.  How? Connect the mind to the body with Mindfulness exercises.

– example of how we habitually “do” and remain disconnected to our present moment experience . . .

– text or talk on cell phones while we walk

But we can change that behavior by fully immersing ourselves in our present experience, being fully present with the sensations and the experience itself

– Washing dishes example

“Wherever you are, be there totally. If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally.” – Eckhart Tolle

–       Return to our birthright of happiness, as young children do, we can find great pleasure and joy in each moment

–       Focus our attention away from thinking and direct it into the body, where being can be felt.


(2) Still your Mind – Suffering Comes from our Thoughts – Do Not Identify with your Story, it is not You

– Still your mind by connecting to the experience itself, not your thoughts

– Recognize your story, what story am I telling myself about my situation, experience, etc.?

– Cease creating a story


(3) Gratitude Practice

– Focus on the Beauty that Surrounds You

– Think about what you did right each day

– Recognize all that you have to be grateful for


(4) Lovingkindness Practice – Look at yourself and others with kindness and compassion instead of reflexive criticism.

Metta Mediation Practice: (said to yourself, to others you love, to a neutral or difficult person and to all beings).

May I (You) be safe.  

May I (You) be happy.  

May I (You) be healthy.    

May I (You) live my (your) life with ease.   


These take practice, but if we consciously integrate these tools into our lives, they can have profound effects on our happiness and sense of wellbeing.




Worry, Guilt, Stress – Are they working for you?

Learning to Identify what is working for you and eliminate those mental habits that are not creating positive change.


What occupies your mental energy? If you had to label those thoughts, what would it be . . . judging, planning, worrying, stressing . . . Underneath all of these habits is FEAR.   We are afraid of not being good enough, not being prepared, not being loved, not being successful, not being perfect, not doing it right, etc.

Habits of the Mind –

  • Stress vs. Stressors –

“[I]t is not the potential stressor itself but how you perceive it and then how you handle it that will determine whether or not it will lead to stress.” (Dr. Seligman)

 How you see things and how you handle them, makes all the difference in the world.

  • If we feed these habits, they are like seeds and will continue to grow.
  • Our thoughts begin to have tremendous power over us.
  • Mindfulness is being aware of our thoughts. We must be aware of those thoughts, and then simply look at them for what they are.
  • These mental habits can create havoc on our bodies.
  • Stress is designed to help us get out of physical danger. We sense danger and this sets off the Amygdala, which triggers fear. People who suffer from anxiety have more reactive amygdala, leaving them feeling threatened more the time.
  • We must ask ourselves, “It there a real and present danger?” Most likely there is not and we must be aware of that there is no real danger to necessitate this fear response.

How to deal with our Mental Habits –

1)  Become aware of what we are thinking and feeling.

2)  Ask – What purpose is this serving?

3)  Worries serve no purpose and are unproductive (or counterproductive). Simply recognizing them as such. “Oh there’s that thought again, it’s just a thought.”

4)  Recognize that certain things are simply out of our control.   There is nothing we can do about it. Learn to tolerate powerlessness.   This may feel bad, but we can learn to accept it or tolerate it.

5)  What are we missing out on why we are worrying??

If we don’t foster those thoughts, they will not grow and those mental habits will lose their power and will eventually stop hooking us.

Maladaptive ways to deal with stress –

  • Overworking
  • Overeating
  • Denial
  • Drugs (prescription and non-perscription)
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking

Another option – Mindfulness Tools For Everyday Life

Building up your resources or your ability to deal with stress. Stop Reacting to Stressors and Start Responding – Choose a different Path.

(1) Breathe – When we notice a trigger or a thought, we can take a few long deep, belly breaths and create a space/pause before we respond, allowing us the opportunity to choose a different path.

  • brings our awareness to the present moment
  • helps us to find our calm center
  • brings our attention to our physical bodies
  • anchors us to a place of calm and stability
  • cuts off the stress response

(2) Present Moment Awareness – Remind ourselves that we are right here (almost never where the problem is). We can do this through being mindful of our breath, physical sensations, sounds, etc.

Thich Nhat Hahn, offers this short meditation in his book Being Peace: “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment.”

(3) Thought labeling – if we can change what we see, we can change how we respond. Perception is key. So labeling what we are thinking helps us better understand our thoughts and recognize them. Awareness takes away their power and creates a space or pause.

(4) Self talk – Is this helping me? Differentiate realistic concerns from Worry. Is it happening now? There are things we can say to ourselves when we are getting hooked, that can be very helpful.

How is this serving me?

Thought is just a thought.

I am doing the best I can.

It is out of my control.

Tie up your donkey.


Meditation Practice – Meditating On Your Difficulties

You can meditate on your stressors – difficult people, difficult situations, and physical pain.

Meditating on Panic Attacks example . . . Mingyur Rinpoche’s Story

Ways that don’t work:

(1)  Your Panic (stressor) becomes your boss, telling you what to do and what to think. It becomes familiar to you. It becomes part of you, who you are. In some way, you like it because you know it.

(2) You hate your panic (stressor) and live in fear of it. You have a strong aversion to your panic and it becomes your enemy.

BUT (1) and (2) cause your Panic (stressor) to become stronger, your mind becomes more sensitive to panic, and more easily triggered.  It is adding fuel to the spark.

The alternative is to  make friends with your panic (stressor).

How?  Through mindfulness meditation training.  Sit with your difficulty, inviting it in.  Learn to sit with the unpleasant feeling.  Make it the object of your meditation.  This helps you to see it more clearly for what it is, and no longer allows it to control you.  You can see it as something that is not part of you, not who you are, but rather a feeling that will pass, no longer bolstered by some story and thoughts that only serve to fuel the flames.  You can also sit with it with an open heart and with compassion.  This takes away its power.  This will help you to better understand how you can work with it rather than fight against it.

All problems, difficulties or challenges (including challenging people) can become your friends, your teachers.

Sylvia Boorstein – Clinging is Suffering – Buddhist teaching that pain is inevitable, suffering is options.

“…[We often] suffer with whatever our life experience is rather than accepting and opening to our experience with wise and compassionate response. . . From this point of view, there is a big difference between pain and suffering. Pain is inevitable; lives come with pain. Suffering is not inevitable. If suffering is what happens when we struggle [against] our experience because of our inability to accept it, then suffering is optional.”


Weekly Wisdom #36

by cheryl on May 9, 2014

in Uncategorized, Weekly Wisdom

“Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.”  – Elizabeth Stone