In Honor of MLK’s Birthday

Another way that you love your enemy is this: When the opportunity presents itself for you to defeat your enemy, that is the time which you must not do it. There will come a time, in many instances, when the person who hates you most, the person who has misused you most, the person who has gossiped about you most, the person who has spread false rumors about you most, there will come a time when you will have an opportunity to defeat that person. It might be in terms of a recommendation for a job; it might be in terms of helping that person to make some move in life. That’s the time you must do it. That is the meaning of love. In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual.

~Martin Luther King Jr.

Mind Magic

Posted: 12 Jan 2015 02:42 PM PST

Photo by: Shell Fischer

In the book My Stroke of Insight, brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor explains that the natural life span of an emotion—the average time it takes for it to move through the nervous system and body—is only a minute and a half, a mere ninety seconds. After that, we need thoughts to keep the emotion rolling. So, if we wonder why we lock into painful emotional states like anxiety, depression, or rage, we need look no further than our own endless stream of inner dialogue.

Modern neuroscience has discovered a fundamental truth: Neurons that fire together, wire together. When we rehearse a looping set of thoughts and emotions, we create deeply grooved patterns of emotional reactivity. This means that the more you think and rethink about certain experiences, the stronger the memory and the more easily activated the related feelings become.
For example, if a young girl asks her father for help and he either ignores her or reacts with irritation, the emotional pain of rejection may become linked with any number of thoughts or beliefs: “I’m not loved,” “I’m not worth helping,” “I’m weak for wanting help,” “It’s dangerous to ask for help,” “He’s bad. I hate him.”

The more the child gets this response from either parent—or even imagines getting this response—the more the impulse to ask for help becomes paired with the belief that she will be refused and the accompanying feelings (fear or hurt, anger or shame). Years later, she may hesitate to ask for help at all. Or, if she does ask, and the other person so much as pauses or looks distracted, the old feelings instantly take over: She downplays her needs, apologizes, or becomes enraged.
Unless we learn to recognize and interrupt our compulsive thinking, these ingrained emotional and behavioral patterns continue to strengthen over time. Fortunately, it’s possible to break out of this patterning.

Researcher Benjamin Libet discovered that the part of the brain responsible for movement activates a quarter-second before we become aware of our intention to move. There is then another quarter-second before the movement begins. What does this mean? First, it casts an interesting light on what we call “free will”—before we make a conscious decision, our brain has already set the gears in motion! But secondly, it offers us an opportunity.

Say you’ve been obsessing about having a cigarette. During the space between impulse (“I need to smoke a cigarette”) and action (reaching for the pack), there is room for choice. Author Tara Bennett-Goleman named this space “the magic quarter-second.” Mindfulness enables us to take advantage of it.

By catching our thoughts in the magic quarter-second, we’re able to act from a wiser place, interrupting the circling of compulsive thinking that fuels anxiety and other painful emotions. For instance, if our child asks us to play a game and we automatically think “I’m too busy,” we might pause and choose to spend some time with her. If we’ve been caught up in composing an angry e-mail, we might pause and decide not to press the send button.

The Buddha taught that to be free—not identified with or possessed by thoughts or feelings—we need to investigate each and every part of our experience with an intimate and mindful attention. The first step is pausing, making use of the magic quarter second, and the second, choosing to be present with our moment –to- moment experience.  We need to recognize the fear-based thoughts and the tension in our bodies with an accepting, curious and kind attention. The fruit of this presence is a capacity to release habitual reactivity, respond to our life circumstances with a wise heart and step out of the grip of oppressive emotions.

Adapted from True Refuge (Bantam, Jan., 2013)’

© Tara Brach

Beautiful Impermanence

No Loneliness

Mindful New Year: Changing Habit Energies

Future Rock StarYesterday the dharma talk in my sangha was about Habit Energy. Since the New Year makes people consider the past and old habits, I thought I’d summarize the talk a bit for you.

Habit energy is what was created a long time ago when we were children, and even when we were so little that we could only pick up non-verbal messages through our feelings. These statements and feelings about who we were, what life is all about, and more, we took into ourselves. Children have a tremendous capacity for learning and we spent all our energy trying to understand the world we were born into. We did this uncritically, assuming we were learning about reality from adults who understood it.

Since we habitually thought certain ways as we grew, the habits of thought were repeated over and over, and grew stronger and stronger until we had created a “self.” Now, we reacted to life and others through our habituated responses and beliefs (habit energies). This seemed, to us, perfectly natural and correct. But we started to find that our habits of thought came unbidden as if they had powerful energy beyond our control. Often our negative habit energy, like anger, jealousy or fear butted heads with someone with different habit energies leaving us confused and hurt. A simple innocuous remark from someone might elicit a disproportionate or even crazy response from us and we are surprised by the intensity.

Habit energy is an involuntary response to life. For example, I automatically have negative thoughts about myself–I’m not good enough in any number of ways. If I stop, physically stop and sit and breathe instead of following those thoughts or analyzing them, they float away. Mindfulness takes the place of mindless negative thinking and emotions. Mindfulness is non-judgmental investigation, not analysis or shame. When I stop and apply mindfulness to see my habit energy I see it and name it what it is. Next I must calm myself and only then when I have regained some peace investigate the genesis of my habit energy of negative self-talk.

I hope this is helpful to some of you. May your new year free you from destructive habit energies and bring mindfulness into your life.



2014 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here's an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,200 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

We are practicing to remember….


To neither suppress our feelings nor be caught by them, but to understand them, that is the art. ~~~Jack Kornfield

Benefits of Insecurity

This is a wonderful short commentary that is very comforting to me, maybe to you too.


The Benefits of Insecurity


What You Gain Through Loss

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