The other day, I was at a checkout stand waiting to pay when I sneezed. The woman who was ahead of me and the cashier automatically said “bless you.” I suppose my lack of a response caused the woman to nervously say, “I don’t even know if I can say that anymore.” Her concerned expression made me feel sad for the loss of our common decency and connection simply as human beings to each other. I replied, “we can all use blessings.” The cashier and she chorused a relieved “Yes, we can.”
With Thanksgiving gatherings in a few days, how do we converse and remain caring and connected with our family members and those around us?
Connection happens quite easily when we express care for those around us. Expressing care is not only through our words but through our tone, facial expression, and body language, and in being interested in and showing empathy for the other person.
The first thing to determine is if you genuinely want to connect with the person/people with whom you disagree. Knowing the importance to you will guide your future conversations with him/her or them.
To bridge the gaps in our relationships, we can do the following:
Remember that conversations about controversial or concerning situations are as temporary as the situations themselves. That is to say that nothing lasts forever. Everything changes.
Prioritizing love, connection, and compassion during these gatherings will ease tension, and help you communicate more deeply with each other.
We have a lot to be thankful for, and reminding ourselves of the importance of the people in our lives is a good beginning point.
I was reflecting on the difference between egotism and self-confidence. It is easy to confuse the two, and even more difficult to develop a healthy balance of being confident, but not overly confident or cocky.
Egotism or arrogance is the habit of thinking oneself as being more important than others; of boasting, being self-absorbed, and conceited. An arrogant person neglects others' opinions and suggestions thus alienating them, and conversely overestimates his or her own abilities.
Whereas self-confidence is knowing oneself and trusting in one’s own judgments, beliefs, and capabilities in dealing with daily challenges and demands, and in one’s ability to succeed. Being confident attracts people and earns their trust.
The willingness to learn about oneself and one’s life is key to developing healthy self-confidence and trust. The most effective way of doing this is to reflect on experiences, thoughts, emotions and feelings, and to process and understand our reactions, actions, thoughts, and speech arising from these experiences.
One can also cultivate habits throughout the day to grow belief in oneself.
Habits to Boost Self-Confidence:
Growing self-confidence is a contradiction because it requires you to act as though you are already confident. So the only thing to do it is to begin acting the part.
May you have much success in your journey to a happier confident you.
,Sometimes no matter how much we try to meet our goals, we struggle to follow through and do what it takes to succeed. Something keeps us from success despite our goals being clearly defined and realistic.
Self-sabotage is the conflict between our logical clear thinking mind (the voice urging healthy eating and careful spending) and our subconscious emotionally driven mind (that indulges midnight snacking and frivolous purchases).
This self-destructive habit causes us to think and act in ways that derail us from our goals. It’s a self-protection mechanism that is rooted in fear of failing, succeeding, or being humiliated or rejected. Self-sabotage prevents us from taking action, fixing problems, changing behaviors, developing new habits, and living our dream life.
However because these behaviors become ingrained habits, we fail to recognize them as the culprits blocking us from success. So we overlook the destructiveness of actions like always being tardy, not organizing our schedule, or FOMO – fear of missing out - so we never commit to an action or invitation. Recognizable behaviors are procrastinating, drowning problems with substances, stress-eating, and self-injuring.
The following list will shine the spotlight on some of these self-limiting behaviours to help you become unstuck:
Repressing Thoughts & Emotions
We stuff our thoughts and feelings because we are ashamed of them, and fear that they make us into awful people. As long as we avoid and repress our feelings and thoughts, we’ll remain in fear of them.
To free yourself, begin to reflect on your life. Detachedly observe your behavior, thoughts, emotions, attitudes, and beliefs, and examine them to understand which ones are helping and which are harming you in the pursuit of your goals. Acknowledge and process them with an attitude of interested curiosity to make them more workable.
We constantly judge and insult ourselves and don’t let go of past mistakes. This is the voice that is always warning us to hold off, rethink decisions, and saying we can’t do something. It traps us in inaction and indecision.
Notice when this mindset steps into the picture. Become intimately familiar with it so you can quickly replace its voice with a positive affirming one. A powerful antidote is to practise patience and kindness towards yourself.
We squander the time we do have believing we’ll have time later to do what we need. So we toss aside hours in which we can finish or chip away at a project by thinking it will be better to just start the next day when we have the whole day. Or we wait until the last minute to begin a project and then we aren’t able to present our best effort.
To change this habit, we can motivate ourselves by first doing something that energizes and calms our mind and then tackle the task at hand. Or you can set a mini deadline of 1 hour each day to work towards meeting your objective.
We don’t take action towards living our dream life because the time isn’t right, or we feel we don’t possess every skill necessary for success. Striving for perfection is an unattainable goal and will cause us to discard every opportunity that presents itself to us.
Reflect on your previous successes and then create a list of attainable goals. Begin with small easily achievable goals to boost your confidence. Think of all your strengths and skills and remind yourself they are responsible for your attainments. Remember too that you are in control of your actions, thoughts, beliefs and use these reflections to inspire you to take action that will move you in the right direction.
To overcome the habit of self-sabotage, it’s absolutely vital that you reflect on your life. Awareness of your underlying beliefs and motivations will reveal why and how you trip yourself up in your life. As you undertake this self-examination be kind to yourself and create a list of positive affirmations, mantras, or visualizations to encourage you. Then begin to change those behaviors, and situations that don’t support your goals. Make a plan of how you will proceed every day.
May you succeed in attaining your life goals
It is the human condition that we occasionally suffer some fear and self-doubt. Our inner critic, to keep us from making complete fools of ourselves, will caution us against breaking out of our comfort zone.
But when fear or the need for perfection becomes overwhelming, it can paralyze us and keep us from living a life of contribution and meaning.
These feelings keep us from trying new things, making mistakes or failing, saying no, standing up for ourselves, and making changes. We become trapped in a cycle of trying to please others and in the limbo of procrastination. Stuck in this safe and familiar cocoon, we live less than fulfilled lives where our dreams and goals are slowly stifled.
To overcome indecision, procrastination, hesitancy, or uncertainty, practice the following techniques:
Self-Compassion – remember that self-doubt is a normal part of being human, and try to accept these feelings as temporary unfolding experiences because nothing lasts forever. Instead of fighting it, acknowledge the part of yourself that is trying to keep you safe, thank it, and then assure it you are capable of coping with life’s challenges. Gentle acceptance lessens fear and helps us regain control.
Mindful Attention – make a strong determination to notice and then to stop your doubting thoughts. Play devil’s advocate and challenge your inner critic who says “you can’t” or “you shouldn’t” or it “isn’t wise”.
Stop Comparing – avoid social media sites that cause you to compare yourself to others and their accomplishments. Researchers are finding that Facebook users are becoming increasingly more depressed. Our doubts and feelings of inadequacy grow when we look at others who always seem to be having more fun, attending fancier parties, and doing so much better than we are. The fact is all of us are struggling to be relevant, seen, understood, and admired.
Listen to your Instinct – weigh the pros and cons of any situation, and then follow your first thoughts to make your decision. Constantly flipping between “should I” or “shouldn’t I” merely keeps us stuck in limbo. It is important to reassure yourself that you can always make changes after beginning.
Ignore Other’s Opinions - Like all thoughts, opinions aren’t fact or truth. So what others think of you is merely their opinion. If you choose to listen to other's opinions, know that their wishes and ideas can influence your decision, and cause you to hold back when you should be taking a chance or making a change. Ultimately the decision is always your own.
Let Go of External Validation - on the flip side of listening to others’ opinions, stop asking for reinforcement or validation from others. Seek advice, but avoid doing this too frequently as this habit will eventually weaken your belief in your own decisions.
Resolve to Take Risks - decide to try something new and assure yourself that you will cope with the challenges. Each day or week, set yourself a tiny goal that will challenge your fears; do this especially for things you’ve been putting off.
Broaden your Perspective - if you are struggling to justify doing something, then think of the people who will benefit from whatever activity you would like to undertake, and then -- do it for them. This expansive
heart-warming reason is an extremely powerful motivator that will keep you persevering.
Start where you are right now. Begin by examining your life and noticing where you are holding back from living the life you envision for yourself. Then decide to do what it takes to pursue your life’s goals.
May you overcome your self-doubt to live a happy, fulfilled life.
I’ve been thinking about the destructiveness of self-hatred or self-anger. Then I happened to hear a wonderfully clear presentation on this topic by Venerable Thubten Chodron (abbess of Sravasti Abbey in Washington State). I’ve pulled her main points to share with you.
Anger at ourselves comes from self-criticism. This habit of picking on ourselves habituates us to criticize others. In other words, when we practice negative self-talk, we will find it easy to think badly of the people we come into contact with.
Self-hate can also manifest in the belief that we are responsible for things going wrong for ourselves and others. Not only is this kind of thinking ignorant but it is also arrogant. We aren’t so powerful, nor are we in control of the innumerable factors that need to come together to give rise to a situation.
The Buddha taught that everything is a dependent arising; this means that every single experience and phenomenon comes into being, functions, and ceases as a result of many causes, conditions, parts, and a mind that labels the experience or situation. So thinking that we alone can make things go wrong is completely unrealistic.
According to Thubten Chodron, anger at ourselves arises because we take responsibility for things that aren’t our responsibility, and deny responsibility for things that are our fault.
As an example, you advise a friend who is about to go down a path that will cause her pain. Your intention is to help your friend avoid a problem. But your friend misunderstands, and angrily accuses you of judging her and not being supportive. Feeling bad about damaging your relationship, you begin judging yourself for having spoken too quickly and not agreeing with her. You blame yourself for your friend’s unhappiness.
In this case: we need to remind ourselves that our intention was to help our friend and wasn’t meant to cause her pain. Her anger and misunderstanding is more to do with her state of mind, beliefs and expectations, internalized anger, or perhaps a sensitivity that easily triggered her. This next point isn’t easy for us to always remember, but it is nonetheless important for us to ponder: her anger doesn’t make us a bad person and shouldn’t cause us to loathe ourselves.
We aren’t responsible for her unhappiness nor her happiness. In fact we can’t make anyone else happy. The challenge with attempting to live our lives trying to make other people happy is almost impossible because people and the things that will make them happy are always changing from moment to moment. We can only ever make ourselves happy.
We can remind ourselves of our positive intention and then try to move on. We can accept ourselves as we are. If we can, we should resolve to ask friends if they’d be interested in hearing our thoughts before sharing them.
As much as we aren’t responsible for someone’s happiness, we are, however, responsible for our own actions.
Anger at ourselves can worsen when we don’t take responsibility for our actions where our intention may not have been honorable. For instance, we say to our brother, who is sensitive about being overweight, that he looks healthy and must be eating well. Even though our words seem innocent enough, our intention was to deliberately antagonize him. When he gets upset at being criticized, we pretend innocence, and say we didn’t mean anything by it, and accuse him of being too sensitive.
So even though we may get away with deceiving others of our motives, within ourselves we feel unease because we know our devious intention. This inner discomfort contributes to our self-loathing. Oftentimes we struggle to admit to ourselves our own meanness or ill will, but denying it can create guilt.
We can confess and acknowledge our guilt to the people we’ve harmed. Or we can make amends to them and decide that we’ll change our unhelpful behavior. If we aren’t able to change right away then we can set the intention for the next hour, week, or year etc. to not act in this way again. We can also set the intention to be mindful in situations that are likely to bring out this tendency of ours. And we can forgive ourselves for our human failing.
May you be fearless in freeing yourself from self hate
We all go through smooth sailing days when we feel good about ourselves. But we also experience challenging stressful days when it isn’t easy to be gentle and forgiving of ourselves.
In spite of all we do and have accomplished in our lives, we struggle to remain connected to a sense of our basic goodness that remains untouched by the cruel or shameful things we occasionally say, do, and think. Our human brain, according to Psychologist Rick Hanson defaults to calm caring contentment when it is undisturbed by fear, pain, or loss.
To keep our brains in this state of serenity, and to practice feeling good about ourselves, follow these guidelines.
1. Actively notice and savor (let the experience fill your mind and body) the moments when you are appreciated, thought of, valued, honored, and loved.
2. Trust in your intelligence and inner coping abilities to deal with the challenges life throws at you.
3. Rely on your strength and adopt the attitude that everything – good or bad -- that happens to you is something you’ll not only survive, but actively learn from to benefit yourself and others.
4. Monitor your thoughts. Recognize and let go of negative thoughts and instead shift your focus to new ideas that will lead you to peace.
5. Focus on being patient, persevering and expanding your perspective; use difficulties to grow your self-knowledge and esteem.
6. Check your expectations about yourself and others. Remember that life is filled with disappointments, deal with your feelings, and then use the situation to empower yourself.
7. Pay attention to your good intentions, actions, thoughts, and speech which arise from your basic goodness. These can be moments when your heart is touched, you bite your tongue, and you are generous, helpful, loving, and patient. When people aren’t “being cooperative”, rather than thinking they are out to get you, choose not to be insulted, to not get angry and lash out or react. Instead ask yourself what your good-natured self would want to do in that situation.
8. Acknowledge your fears, and remind yourself that by facing and overcoming fear we become stronger.
9. Recognizing other people’s goodness reminds us of our own good nature. It can be as simple as this story I recently heard. A woman was driving a teacher to a class and they were running late. They came to a STOP sign and as she impatiently waited for their turn to move, she heard the teacher gently remark on the kindness of all the drivers for stopping.
This story illustrates the importance of every small act of kindness adding up to create a world of greater safety, peace and joy for all beings and the planet. It all begins with not harming others or ourselves, and recognizing our basic goodness.
May you become familiar with your true nature.
With our lives being as busy as they are - long to-do lists, overflowing in boxes/baskets, and never-ending repetitive tasks - how many of us feel comfortable taking time to rest?
Personally this is a huge struggle for me. As I always feel I have courses to update, classes to plan, a business to market, and articles to write, I usually debate with myself on whether I can afford to take a nap, or simply sit and just enjoy a cup of tea. My habit is to force myself to keep going despite being fatigued in mind and body.
Years of perpetuating this habit has revealed its futility:
What is Rest?
True rest and relaxation means completely being at ease without planning or striving, feeling pressure, or worrying about what needs to be done. Resting or simply doing nothing heals our overall being.
For those whose racing mind won’t let you put up your feet when your inbox is full, Psychologist Rick Hanson urges reflecting on your beliefs or fears about resting. Some common mental and emotional obstacles to rest are:
To undermine the mindset that associates rest with failing, ask yourself: What am I afraid of? Whose approval am I seeking? Does being busy make me feel useful? Does a busy routine really keep me on top? Am I really useless when I take time off?
The benefits of relaxing or napping I can speak of personally. I’ve noticed after a nap, I wake up refreshed with a clear mind, energized, optimistic, and confident that I can cope with my work load, and be ready to face whatever comes my way.
Ways to Rest:
Try resting at least 5 minutes every day. But if you don't do so, be gentle with yourself as the simplest way to unwind is to practice self-compassion. When our minds are peaceful we feel rested.
May your rest heal your mind, emotions, and body.
Self-compassion is challenging for many of us. We often find it easier to be kind and forgiving towards others for their mistakes, or to be moved to help others in need, but struggle with practicing gentle friendliness towards ourselves.
Some people believe that being harshly critical of their shortcomings and inadequacies keeps them disciplined or motivated. Self-compassion is about accepting that we aren’t perfect, and that like all human beings, we struggle with difficulties. Dr. Kristin Neff suggests that personal changes like wanting to be healthy or happy should be motivated by the mindset of caring for oneself, and not from the belief of being unworthy or in wanting to be perfect. These beliefs cause us to suffer.
The Buddha talked about the 2 arrows. The first arrow is the actual event that causes pain or distress. The second arrow is the rumination or emotional reaction i.e. judgments, denials, blaming -- in short the stories we tell about the experience, which increases our suffering. The first arrow has happened, but the second is avoidable.
The way to avoid the second arrow is through contemplating our experiences and practicing self-compassion.
3 Step Self Compassion Meditation (Dr. Kristin Neff)
Each line of affirmation offers three different wording options. Use the one that feels most comfortable for you.
Suffering is part of life/Everyone feels this way sometimes/This is part of being human,
May I be kind to myself in this moment/May I love and support myself right now/May I accept myself as I am,
May I give myself the compassion I need/ May I remember that I’m worthy of compassion/May I give myself the same compassion I would give to a friend.
The wording is designed to bring mindful awareness to the hurt we are currently experiencing. It reminds us of our shared suffering and thereby alleviates our isolation and stress. In the midst of the pain, we are gently reminded to practice self-kindness. And we consciously set the intention to behave in a kind way towards ourselves.
Memorize the lines that feel most soothing to you. Practice even when you aren’t in distress. That way, when you notice you are judging or beating yourself up, these words will easily come to mind.
May you be filled with self-kindness.
News headlines are dominated by catastrophes, conflicts and controversies. Reporting is sensationalistic and biased, and is designed to deliberately manipulate and trigger our well-honed predispositions and instincts. These stories are slanted to evoke fear, outrage, despair, and worry in us.
With this awareness foremost in our minds, every time we turn on our televisions, watch or read online news, we should have a reliable method (according to Ponlop Rinpoche) to mindfully consume the news and deal with strong emotions.
1. Respond not React
Before turning on your phone or television, breathe deeply into your belly, and check in regularly with your breath and feelings throughout. It is worthwhile to know which situations or current issues evoke strong feelings, and to make a conscious decision to respond rather than react when that issue arises. This skill of responding is beneficial for our overall well-being.
2. Different Perspectives
Know that every situation or issue has different perspectives and supporters. To lessen your reactivity and broaden your mind, read international reports and other accounts of the situation. Doing this kind of research automatically pulls us out of our tight focus, and give us a bird’s eye view of the situation. Distance decreases emotion, and increases clarity and wisdom.
3. Training the Mind
Decide in advance that you will use the news as the opportunity to train your mind and grow your knowledge about yourself. So as you read or watch the news, let one part of your mind be calmly observing your reactions, thoughts, feelings and attitudes. We know how to split our minds in this manner. For e.g. we do it when we are walking and talking: one part of the mind is watching where we place our foot and another is tracking the conversation. This practice of detached observation of ourselves will train the mind to be more controlled.
4. Seeing the Commonalities/Inter-Connectedness
We can also use the news to grow our understanding of those we oppose. This doesn’t mean we condone everything or even agree with them. The choice here is to shift the focus away from our differences and onto our commonalities. We make the choice/choose to be tolerant, expansive and kind towards the people we disagree with. We try to understand their point of view and emotions around the issue.
We grow this sense of shared experience by recognizing that they are just like me: they want happiness and not sadness, they care for their loved ones, and they suffer fears, vulnerabilities and worries just as I do. And for victims of natural and man-made disasters we send them loving kindness, or wishes to be free from their pain..
Be kind to yourself when you forget to follow these steps. Here too, use your own experience of forgetting and your response to forgetting for reflection and growth.
May all our experiences lead us to freedom and happiness.
It’s already February, and for some of us, maintaining our new year’s resolutions may be starting to become a little harder. With the cold, dark, rainy days we’ve been having, I personally have been struggling to get up and get to the gym at my usual time. So knowing how challenging it can be to follow through on our good intentions, here are some quick pointers on maintaining enthusiasm, determination, and drive on the path to beneficial change.
No matter what goal or resolution you’ve set for yourself - meditating, working out, dieting, or saving - the five points below will be helpful:
Remind yourself of your intrinsic motivation.
Sit down and take a few calming breaths. Then contemplate what satisfies and dissatisfies you about your life. Something spurred you to the resolution you took, so get back in touch with it. Reflecting on the reasons for that decision will motivate you again.
Another benefit of this kind of review is it will show if you need to adjust the scope and size of your goal. Having a manageable goal is the most important element for a successful outcome.
Review the benefits.
One of the best ways to inspire yourself is to make a list of the benefits. Put these on post-it notes or index cards, then keep them on your bedside table and tape them to your bathroom mirror. Review the benefits of this new habit or program you’ve undertaken as often as possible.
On the flip side, try to avoid evaluating your progress too often and too soon as this can discourage you. Set up a realistic time frame to help you get a clear picture of your short term progress and to inspire you towards a long term lifestyle change.
If your resolution is to begin meditating, losing weight, or improving your relationships with loved ones or colleagues, then having a physical representation or reminder is very powerful motivator. You could keep a journal or scrapbook in which you put photographs of those people or your goal, or create a vision board that you hang on your bedroom wall. Look at these often to inspire you when your motivation is running low.
Recall and celebrate your gains.
Celebrate your successes. Taking the time to acknowledge your effort and discipline, and feeling proud of yourself is not vanity. Acknowledging our progress remind us of our abilities and our strengths, and helps create positive memories around these achievements, which is inspiring.
Be vigilant when you are out celebrating. If your goal is shedding a few pounds, be mindful not to harm your weight loss plan, or if it’s to work out or meditate in the morning, then don't stay out until 3 am.
Journal your successes and the changes you are noticing; read these entries often to keep them fresh in your mind and to increase your determination.
As with all new habits, it is normal to slip up. Try not to lose hope. Remind yourself that all habits take time to build.
If you are going to use energy, then use it wisely – not to beat yourself up, but to instead practice kindness towards yourself.
Remember every moment presents the opportunity to start anew.
All the very best. May you succeed in living your ideal life.