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Fostering Forgiveness from Mindfulness Magazine

Two monks are walking down the road. They arrive at a muddy stream crossing, and a well dressed woman declares without introduction, “Don’t just stand there. Someone carry me across this mess.

Without pause, the older monk lifts her across. She says nothing, not even a thank you.

The two monks walk all day. The whole time, the younger one stews in his mind—How could he pick her up? We’re not supposed to touch women, or even talk to them. And she was so rude, someone should say something to her, she didn’t deserve our help.

Finally, arriving at the inn for dinner, he can’t hold himself back. “What were you thinking?   She was nasty, and you broke the rules, and she didn’t even say thank you.”

The older monk smiles gently and replies. “Wow, I put that woman down hours ago, but you’ve been carrying her all this time!”

Why We Carry Anger and Resentment

So what does that mean in real life? We make mistakes. Other people me mistakes. We do things to others. Others do things to us. There’s an actual experience that can be trivial or even traumatic. We add to the suffering with judgment, anger, and blame. It’s sometimes referred to as adding a second arrow after being struck by a first. Something unpleasant happens, but then we add more to the experience.

Forgiveness isn’t the same as condoning ourselves or anyone else for misbehavior. With forgiveness, we make amends when needed but let go of the extra baggage. We give ourselves the same benefit of the doubt we’d offer a close friend.

Forgiveness isn’t the same as condoning ourselves or anyone else for misbehavior. But we so easily hold ourselves infinitely responsible, often for experiences utterly out of our control or from decades past. With forgiveness, we make amends when needed but let go of the extra baggage. We give ourselves the same benefit of the doubt we’d offer a close friend.

On the other hand, we sometimes allow someone else to influence our lives long after they’ve gone in a similar fashion. Another driver cuts us off in traffic, putting us in danger, and then speeds off. The driver arrives at brunch and relaxes, but we make our own coffee break bitter dwelling in our own anger. It’s a concept that holds across larger situations too. Anger and resentment simmer and grow, while compassionate resolve allows us to address what needs addressing without slinging additional arrows.

Guided Meditation: How to Be Mindful With Your Mistakes (and Others’)

1) Find yourself a comfortable posture, or take a moment lying on the floor, or a bed.

2) Bring your attention to the physical sensation of breathing, noting whatever is grabbing your attention, or whatever you’re feeling now, and without judgment, bringing your attention back to the rising and falling of your breath.

3) Picture something that comes to mind that you judge yourself for. Maybe you feel regret, or irritation, or sadness. Notice how it feels even bringing it to mind. Then focus on these three phrases, not forcing anything but setting an intention:

I forgive myself for not understanding.
I forgive myself for making mistakes.
I forgive myself for causing pain and suffering to myself and others.

4) Bring your attention back again and repeat the phrases. For a few moments instead of the breath using these phrases as a focus for your attention.

This type of practice may become too painful. At any time, without judging yourself, come back and focus on the breath. Allow yourself to settle and return when you’re ready, now or maybe some time in the future.

5) Our mind naturally holds onto instances where we feel mistreated by others. There may be experiences that were entirely wrong or traumatic or that concretely require our attention or action. At the same time, we can practice avoiding the second arrow.

I forgive you for not understanding.
I forgive you for making mistakes.
I forgive you for causing pain and suffering to me and to others.

Letting go of the tendency to add resentment and judgment and everything related to challenging and unpleasant situations.

Again, if it’s too much to consider, return to breathing, or if you prefer, focusing on compassion for yourself instead.

6) Practices of this kind can be quite challenging, so in these last few moments, on each in-breath, noticing and accepting whatever you feel right now. On each out-breath, as you would for a close friend, offering yourself relief, or freedom, or strength, or whatever first comes to mind.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean being passive or not taking action. It doesn’t mean standing down when we need to protect ourselves or someone else from harm. Do what needs to be done—that might mean taking a pause, settling the mind, and trying to see things as clearly as possible before taking skillful action. Continue to practice forgiveness, over and over again, letting go of whatever holds you back.

Survival of the Kindest from Mindfulness Magazine

Compassion is the feeling that naturally arises when you learn of the suffering of another, and that motivates you to want to do something to help. Far from being just a social nicety, compassion has a great evolutionary purpose: Human offspring are the most dependent and vulnerable of any species, and need the most care from others to survive. This total dependence is why Charles Darwin said that sympathy is humanity’s strongest instinct. Simply put: Without compassion we wouldn’t survive.

If you find yourself feeling less moved than you’d like—or maybe your empathy muscle has grown a bit weak from lack of use—here are some ways to strengthen it. You, and every other living creature, will benefit from the results.

1. See Beneath the Rough Exterior

When someone acts unpleasantly or is just generally difficult, it’s hard to feel compassion for them. But there’s almost always a reason for such behavior. If we can pause and try to recognize this, our heart can soften and create an opening for the possibility of greater connection and healing. Is there a “tough personality” in your life that you can try to see in a different light?

2. Create Ripple Effects

Turns out, kindness and generosity are contagious. A 2010 study discovered that when we witness generosity, it inspires us to be more generous. In fact, researchers found that the ripple effect of this kindness spreads by three degrees. Acting compassionately does the same thing. Where can you pay it forward today?

3. One Thing a Day

Look around and notice who in your life is having a difficult time and could use some support. The gesture can be big, such as bringing a meal to the infirm, or relatively small, such as sending an email or note to let someone know you’re thinking of them. Begin the practice of doing one thing each day for someone else.

illustration hands holding

4. Try Understanding

So often our disconnection from one another stems from a lack of understanding. Yet striving to understand where a person is coming from naturally elicits feelings of compassion and connection. This doesn’t excuse bad behavior, but it does give us perspective and help us to not take things so personally.

5. Practice Gratitude

Most of us have been the recipient of kind and compassionate gestures at some point in our lives—an introduction that led to a new job; a compliment or kind word at just the right moment; an unexpected gift. Take a few moments to recall one of these experiences and see if you can tap into the gratitude you felt at the time, and maybe still do.

6. Be Kind to Yourself

Sometimes it’s easier to feel compassionate for another than for yourself. But true compassion doesn’t discriminate. The next time you’re having a difficult moment, see if you can offer yourself some kindness. You might be surprised at how much it helps—and helps you to feel kinder toward others.

7. Celebrate Imperfection

One of the most corrosive sources of self-criticism comes from believing we need to be “perfect.” Far from making us “better,” this attitude can cause us to spiral into obsessive thinking, anxiety, and depression. Try this instead: If you make a mistake or aren’t perfect at something, lift your arms and yell “Hooray” or “Woo-hoo!” Taking a more playful approach to life is a great act of self-compassion, as it trains your brain to let go, learn from mistakes, and, simply, to begin again.

8. Just What the Doctor Ordered

Research shows that feeling compassion is good for us. It causes our heart rate to slow, which makes us more relaxed and calm; it leads to the release of the “bonding hormone” oxytocin, which helps us to feel more connected and loving toward others; and it activates regions of the brain linked to empathy, caregiving, and pleasure.

9. Reach Out and Touch Someone

In 2006 James Coan, psychologist and researcher at the University of Virginia, found that holding the hand of a loved one significantly reduces the brain’s reactivity to electric shocks. When a loved one is struggling, see if it’s OK to give a hug or to hold their hand. If you’re the one struggling, notice what happens when you place your hands on your heart or stomach.

10. Happier Genes

Researchers have discovered that people who actively practice compassion and altruism have lower levels of inflammatory gene expression and higher expression of antiviral and antibody genes than people who lived for greater self-gratification or pleasure. “Doing good” and “feeling good” may be different things, but through “doing good” you can have both.

11. Meet Your Self-Critic

You probably run the same self-defeating stories, the same criticisms over and over again. Make a “Top 10 Hit List” of self-critical thoughts. As you notice them arise (as they inevitably will), acknowledge it: “Ah, there you are. I was wondering when you’d show up.” Then, take a nice deep breath, and say, “May I be free from being so hard on myself, may all people be free from being so hard on themselves, may we all live with ease.”

A Box of Simple Advice

Turn Values Into Verbs

When asked what they value most in the world, people will often say things like “peace,” “compassion,” or “connection.” But in order to make this real we have to turn these values into verbs, making them more specific and practical. If you value compassion, what does that look like daily? Take out a piece of paper, write “Compassion” at the top and create a list of actions, small to big, that you can start doing immediately. This is how we live Gandhi’s words: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”


This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue of Mindful magazine.
Elisha Goldstein

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and conducts a private practice in West Los Angeles. He is author of Uncovering Happiness: Overcoming Depression with Mindfulness and Self-Compassion (Atria Books, 2015), The Now Effect (Atria Books, 2012), Mindfulness Meditations for the Anxious Traveler (Atria Books, 2013), and co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook (New Harbinger, 2010).

Stefanie Goldstein

Stefanie Goldstein, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and the director and co-founder of the Center for Mindful Living in West Los Angeles. She specializes in mindfulness while working with adolescents, adults, couples, and families. She is also the co-creator of the Good Morning America featured popular teen program CALM: Connecting Adolescents to Learning Mindfulness, an 8-week program that teaches mindfulness and social-emotional learning to teens.

Ten Steps To Finding Inner Strength

By Carley Hauck

The two universal laws of impermanence are uncertainty and unpredictability. When life changes unexpectedly, we can often feel off balance, insecure, and unclear of what really matters and/or what to do next. This is normal. What can support us to reclaim our life and tap into our internal wisdom is re-asserting our strength of mind and heart.

Mindfulness and compassion are two important qualities that increase our resilience. At this pivotal time in our world, we need to cultivate both. Mindfulness allows us to see things as they are and turn toward challenges. We can turn toward the uncertainty and difficult feelings around the US presidential election, we can turn toward the devastating truth of climate change, we can turn toward the pleasant and unpleasant with greater wisdom and thus freedom. Compassion is “being with” the suffering of oneself and the other with a fierce heart. Compassion in action has the ability to heal and transform oneself and thus the world into a place that takes the welfare of all beings into consideration.

When is a time that you realized that you gave away your power?

We have all had experiences where we spoke honestly about our feelings and needs and it was judged or dismissed—or even or worse, resulted in love and/or support taken away. Based on these experiences, some of us move into people-pleasing behaviors and often say yes or nothing at all, when we really want to say no. As a result, we don’t assert or claim what we authentically feel and need, and thus we give away our power.

I found in the 10-day mindfulness and authenticity challenge I co-led this October that when we lead ourselves with greater authenticity we feel more empowered in our life.

Here are two of the mindful inquiries we explored during the challenge:

How do I give away my power?

  • When I listen to the critical and judgmental thoughts that disempower my worth, potential, and abilities.
  • When I am going too fast.
  • When I say yes, when I really mean no, or not yet.
  • When I don’t listen to my feelings and needs.
  • When I don’t stick up for myself and share my feelings and needs with others.
  • When I am not taking good care of myself with exercise, meditation, nutrition,
    connection, sleep, self-care, etc.

How do I feel empowered?

  • When I slow down.
  • When I ask for support.
  • When I really listen and then take care and support my feelings and needs in action.
  • When I share my truth in a kind and skillful way.
  • When I claim my inherent good worth, kindness, and competence in the world.
  • When I surround myself with people who love and accept me for me.
  • When I spend time in nature.
  • When I engage in healthy practices that nourish my mind, body, and heart like exercise, sleep, healthy food, connection, play, learning, and meditation.
  • When I feel engaged in a community or group with a shared goal or intention.
  • When I feel on purpose in my life.
  • When I am creating.
  • When I am helping others.

We have all had experiences where we spoke honestly about our feelings and needs and it was judged or dismissed—or even or worse, resulted in love and/or support taken away. Based on these experiences, some of us move into people-pleasing behaviors and often say yes or nothing at all, when we really want to say no. As a result, we don’t assert or claim what we authentically feel and need, and thus we give away our power.

Daily Power Practice

When we feel more empowered, we have the capacity to better stand up for what we feel and need. Try this practice to feel powerful in all areas of your life:

  1. Close your eyes and let your awareness turn inward to your breathing and the sensations in your body.
  2. Breathe deeply from your belly for 1-5 minutes until you feel your body and mind relax.
  3. Connect to the power within you and outside of you by imagining your breath flowing into the top of your scalp and through your body to the bottom of your feet.
  4. Think of a time during the last few days when you gave away your power.
  5. Do a scan of your body from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet, what do you notice? Where is the body feeling tightness or tension? Allow whatever to arise to be greeted with acceptance. Turn toward all physical sensations with kindness and allowing. What emotion is present: fear, anger, and/or confusion? All emotions are welcome.
  6. What is the story you are telling yourself?
  7. Now ask yourself: “How old is this part of you that believes/is experiencing this story?
  8. Tell yourself, “I transform and let go.” You are letting go of this thought so that it has no power over you.
  9. Open your eyes and shake it off. Do a few movements in your body to somatically discharge any old, disempowering beliefs that do not serve you.
  10. Now bring awareness to your belly, connect to your strength, the talents that you have been cultivating for years, your resilience, and your good worth. Feel the many ways that you are a powerful person. What new and empowered thought can you feel right now?

As you move into the rest of your day, come back to the wise and strong person that you are. Connect to this place in your belly and stand from this spot.

Finding Inner Strength

A few years ago, I was dating a man for several months, whom I deeply loved and had aspirations of a long-term future with. We came to a crossroads in our communication one challenging day and instead of him having the capacity to stay in the relationship and conversation with me, he shut down and left completely. No contact, no repair, no resolution, here is your stuff, gone. It was one of the most difficult experiences I have gone through and believe me I have had several in this lifetime, and expect to have more. Yet, his leaving didn’t break me, in fact it was a huge gift. I felt devastated at first and didn’t quite know how to surf this new and unexpected change. I was moving through the stages of grief and loss (denial, anger, bargaining, deep sadness, and acceptance). I feel thankful for having a strong mindfulness practice that enabled me to really turn toward and thus feel all my feelings. After about two months of daily tears and uncertainty, something shifted within me. I was practicing intense self-love, was claiming myself, my worth, and my life in a way that I had never done before. It was as if my “inner superhero” kicked in.

My inner superhero is She-Ra. She exemplifies strength, femininity, sensuality, and a fierce heart. Her superpower is compassion. During that difficult period in my life, I had a phrase I said to myself daily: “Carley, I am 100% here for you no matter what.” When I could tap into my innate strength and wisdom, I felt empowered, worthy, loveable, and could do and be anything that I put time and attention to. From that day forward my life has blossomed into a deeply transformative and amazing path.

What is your inner superhero saying? Here are some ideas from my inner She-Ra toolbox:

  • I am paid well just for being me
  • I make things happen
  • I am loveable, resilient, and supported
  • I have everything I need right now
  • I attract love and support easily

What we feed the mind, knowingly or unknowingly, deeply impacts how we orient to others, to the world, and to ourselves. If we don’t have the capacity to train the mind, we will be moving through the world unable to access our greatest potential and thus our greater power and well-being.

Silence is Indeed Golden – For Your Brain Cells Too! From – thanks.

A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice. The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

“We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.
The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.”

When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

As Herman Melville once wrote, “All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

Silence relieves stress and tension.

It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech.

“This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.

Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.
Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making. The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.

Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

Featured photo credit: Mind Body via
habit feature image


5 Ways to Beat the Afternoon Slump!

Are you familiar with the mid-afternoon slump? You know, the fog that rolls in sometime between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m., without so much as a warning, destroying your will to do anything except curl up in a ball under your desk. You’re not alone. The afternoon slump is a real, biological phenomenon that lots of people experience every single day. In fact, it’s a sign your internal clock—fluctuations in energy and body temperature regulated by our circadian rhythms—is running on time.

But that doesn’t mean the slump has to keep you down. Clear away the haze with a few body-and-brain-boosting tricks—none of which involve pumping yourself full of caffeine or sugar—so you can go forth into the world with a fresh mind.

1. Stretch

Stretching for even 20 seconds can have a huge effect on your energy levels—particularly if you’ve been sitting at a desk for hours. Stand up and reach down to touch your toes; bring your hands together and reach above your head; imagine yourself as a cat to deepen your stretch. Just kidding. (Sort of—if you’ve got a good imagination and like cats, it might help.)

2. Close your eyes for two full minutes

It’s hard to truly comprehend how much time we spend with our eyes widened by the glaring light of our phones, TVs, and computers. Not only is it physically straining, it’s also mentally draining. Place your hands over your eyes for two minutes, and relish the time you have to sit still and be with yourself.

3. Tidy up

When you create an uplifted environment for yourself, your mind and body follow suit. Take a few minutes to clean up your desk, wash a few dishes, or straighten up your coffee table.

4. Call a loved one and tell them why they matter

It’s always worthwhile to extend yourself to others, so pick up the phone and feel your heart swell. It’ll make their day better; it’ll make your day better.

5. Take a walk

There’s nothing like fresh air to perk you up when you’re feeling hazy. And if you spend your days in an office building, the air can get pretty stale. Get up and get out—even if you’ve only got five minutes to spare. It’ll get your blood flowing, your muscles moving, and will offer your mind a fresh start.

From Mindfulness Magazine – great article!

10 Mindful Attitudes That Decrease Anxiety

By exerting more conscious control over our behaviors and attitudes, we learn to work with our intention, wise effort, and capacity to be kind to ourselves.

By runlenarun/Adobe Stock

Mindfulness is, in short, the practice of being aware of what’s happening or what you’re experiencing in the present moment. It’s being here and now without judgment. This is a capacity that all human beings possess. Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful.

Although more research is needed to illuminate the mechanisms at work, it’s clear that mindfulness allows us to interrupt automatic, reflexive fight, flight, or freeze reactions—reactions that can lead to anxiety, fear, foreboding, and worry. By bringing mindfulness to our actual experience in the moment, we can increase the likelihood of exerting more conscious control over our behaviors and attitudes. In so doing we learn to work with our intention, wise effort, will, discipline, and capacity to be kind to ourselves. These are all resources that can be harnessed and cultivated.

With that in mind, there are certain attitudes that play an important role when working with anxiety mindfully. These attitudes are central to mindfulness, and fostering them will help you develop and sustain your practice. It’s similar to adding nutrients to the soil to cultivate a vibrant and healthy garden. By attending to the attitudes of mindfulness, you can support your practice and help it flourish. And just as a well-tended garden bears seeds and fruit, so too will practicing mindfulness help foster all of the attitudes of mindfulness. Keep in mind that you may find slightly different lists of the attitudes of mindfulness in other places. Below are the qualities that we believe all play an important role in working with anxiety mindfully.

1) Volition or intention is the foundation that supports all of the other attitudes. Your intention, will, or volition is what sets you on the mindful path to working within yourself to gradually transform your anxiety and find more ease, freedom, and peace. By bringing intention to working with anxiety, you’re developing persistence in seeing yourself as whole, capable, and resourceful.

2) Beginner’s mind is an aspect of mind that’s open to seeing from a fresh perspective. Meeting anxiety in this way, with curiosity, can play an extremely important role in transforming your experience. When you’re willing to adopt another point of view, new possibilities arise, and this can help you challenge habitual anxious thoughts and feelings.

3) Patience is a quality that supports perseverance and fortitude when feelings of anxiety are challenging. Patience offers a broader perspective, allowing you to see that moments of anxiousness will pass in time.

4) Acknowledgment is the quality of meeting your experience as it is. For example, rather than trying to accept or be at peace with anxiety, you meet it and your experience of it as they are. You can acknowledge that anxiety is present and how much you don’t like it, even as you apply patience and see anxiety as your current weather system, knowing it will pass.

5) Nonjudgment means experiencing the present moment without the filters of evaluation. In the midst of anxiety, it can be all too easy to experience a secondary layer of judgment on top of the already uncomfortable anxious feelings. Stepping out of a judgmental mind-set allows you to see more clearly. When you let go of evaluations, many sources of anxiety simply fade away. When you feel anxiety, adopting a nonjudgmental stance can reset your mind into a more balanced state.

6) Nonstriving is the quality of being willing to meet any experience as it is, without trying to change it. With nonstriving, you understand the importance of being with things as they are—being with your experience without clinging to or rejecting what’s there. (Note that nonstriving relates to your present-moment experiences during meditation and doesn’t in any way negate the value of setting a wise intention to grow, learn, and change your relationship to anxiety.) In the midst of strong anxiety, the first response is often to flee or get out of the situation. If you can pause and really be with your experience without exerting any force against it, you gain the opportunity to know your experience more clearly and choose your response. You can also become less fearful of the physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions that accompany anxiety.

7) Self-reliance is an important quality for developing inner confidence. With practice, you can learn to trust yourself and your ability to turn toward your anxiety or any other uncomfortable feeling. In turning toward these feelings, it’s important to bring other qualities of mindfulness to your experience, allowing the feelings, acknowledging them, and letting them be.

In time, you can learn to ride a wave of anxiety until it dissipates, just as a storm runs its course in the sky.

8) Letting be or allowing is similar to nonstriving. It’s a quality that gives space to whatever you encounter in the moment. For example, if anxiety comes up as you meditate, you could choose to work with it by allowing the feeling to be there. In time, you can learn to ride a wave of anxiety until it dissipates, just as a storm runs its course in the sky.

9) Self-compassion is a beautiful quality of meeting yourself with kindness. Yet, sadly, so many people are their own greatest adversaries. Most of us probably would never treat another person the way we sometimes treat ourselves. Self-compassion will naturally grow as you practice meditation. And bringing this quality into your experience of anxiety can be like being your own best friend in the midst of hardship, offering your hand in a moment when help is needed. As your self-compassion grows, you will come to know that you are there for yourself, and your anxiety will naturally decrease.

10) Balance and equanimity are related qualities that foster wisdom and provide a broader perspective so that you can see things more clearly. From this perspective, you understand that all things change and that your experience is so much wider and richer than temporary experiences of anxiety and other difficulties.


Take some time right now to slowly reread the descriptions of the attitudes of mindfulness. After reading each one, pause and reflect upon what it means to you, especially as you begin to work with anxiety. Take a moment to try on each attitude and see how it feels. As you do so, tune in to how you feel in your body, mind, and emotions. Finally, after trying on each attitude, briefly describe your experience, noting how it felt. For example, did it feel natural or easy to adopt a particular attitude, or was it difficult? If it was difficult, why might that be? Was the attitude unfamiliar, or did you feel yourself resisting it in some way?

Generous or Stingy? Interesting new info!

Researchers often find that after several weeks of compassion meditation practice, people perform more acts of kindness and caring outside the lab, such as visiting a retirement home or telling a coworker what they appreciate about her. They also report more feelings of compassion toward suffering people. They act more kindly toward strangers. They become less subject to the “bystander effect,” whereby everyone assumes that someone else will step up and come to the aid of a stranger in need. They more readily offer an exhausted woman a chair, as occurred in a 2015 study at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. Good news, right?

I’m skeptical. Scientists, like humans generally, fall into the trap of looking for explanations that suit them best. Meditation may indeed do all that is claimed. But has research really demonstrated that fact?

The way these studies are usually conducted, they cannot rule out two alternative explanations for the effects attributed to meditation. One is a placebo response: People who practice compassion meditation might believe it makes them kinder, better people—and expectation makes it so. The other possible explanation is a desire to please the researchers: If volunteers guess what effect the scientists are looking for, they may consciously or unconsciously produce it. In either case, meditation itself wouldn’t be doing what researchers think it is.

These questions were running through my mind when I encountered a 2016 study on compassion meditation and generosity by researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder. In general, in compassion meditation, you focus on suffering individuals, then groups of suffering people, then all of suffering humanity. In each case, you express the wish that they be free from suffering. It has been a mystery what compassion meditation actually does to produce the compassionate behavior and thoughts. So when Colorado’s Yoni Ashar and his colleagues set out to “show how compassion meditation changes how we think and feel about suffering people”— which would presumably lead people to be more generous—their study design was unusually exacting.

Generosity wanes if people perceive the world as full of threats and looming scarcity rather than abundance and security.

They showed 200 participants fictional biographies and photographs of people in need. The volunteers rated the following: their feelings of warmth toward each suffering individual; how much distress they felt at the person’s situation; how much blame they felt the individual deserved for his plight; and how much the person would benefit from a donation.

The volunteers could then donate up to $1 to each of the sufferers. Contrary to the belief that distress makes people less generous by making them turn away from suffering to relieve their own discomfort, the researchers found that greater distress predicted greater generosity. But so did these factors: thinking the person was blameless; believing a donation would actually help; and feeling warmth toward the sufferer. Curiously, having values, interests, and demographic features in common didn’t make people more generous, the researchers reported in the journal Emotion.

That challenged a widespread idea that we’re more generous to People Like Us (PLUs). We might be. But if so, it’s because we feel greater warmth toward PLUs and are more likely to think they’re not to blame for their suffering, rather than because similarity directly triggers generosity.

For the compassion meditation part of the generosity study, 58 new participants listened to biographies of suffering people—an orphaned child, a cancer victim, a homeless veteran— and were asked how much of the $100 the researchers gave them they’d like to donate to the person whose story they just heard. Then the group was split in three: some listened again to one biography; others engaged in a guided compassion-meditation session every day for four weeks; the rest were given a placebo, a nasal spray they were told contained an empathy-increasing hormone (a.k.a. H2O).

The participants were asked again if they would like to donate up to $100 to the individual they most recently learned about. The meditators reported significantly more compassion (positive feelings toward those in need) than the “compassion placebo” group did, suggesting that this effect is a real, direct consequence of meditating. But the effect on generosity wasn’t straightforward. The meditating group did not make more generous donations after four weeks of daily compassion meditation than they had before—despite the increase in generosity-associated feelings. Ashar and his colleagues aren’t sure how to explain why feelings didn’t translate into behavior, but they find one ray of hope in the data: The meditators’ giving did not drop off as sharply as the other groups’ did (the familiar phenomenon of “donor fatigue”).

It’s surprising that fundamental questions about generosity—what thoughts and feelings trigger it?—are still unanswered. In a world of vast unmet needs, where figuring out how to bring out the best in people could go far to alleviate suffering, that’s a troubling knowledge gap. But researchers are making some headway. They are learning, for instance, that generosity does not seem to be an instinctive, default behavior: When experimenters gave one child three marbles and another just one, only one-third of the kids spontaneously evened things out, according to a 2015 report from Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. Perhaps generosity is an emotional or cognitive skill that must be learned. If so, it might explain this: Although three-year-olds in societies as different as urban California and hunter-gathering Aka shared treats that scientists gave them only one-third of the time (and became less likely to be generous through age seven), as they got older their generosity matched the norms of their culture—more evidence that generosity is a skill that one learns…or doesn’t.

It is certainly possible to absorb lessons for or against generosity, said Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith. But generosity wanes if people perceive the world as full of threats and looming scarcity rather than of abundance and security—one of the individual traits most predictive of individual generosity.

Smith’s research, along with similar research elsewhere, throws cold water on two commonly cited findings about generosity. One is that generous people are happier and healthier because they donate. Smith’s research suggests another explanation: Because generous people view the world as safe, secure, and abundant, their happiness might derive not from being generous but from a generally sunny outlook. A second myth: When people act generously, their brain’s reward circuitry becomes more active, therefore the very act of giving must make us feel good. Of course, it can. But a 2015 study by scientists at Caltech found a different explanation for reward circuits humming like crazy: They are furiously calculating whether to give and how good or bad they’ll feel about that decision.

Perhaps the strongest message from the science of generosity is that the more adversity someone has experienced, the more compassion she feels and the more generous she’s likely to be. I’m reminded of this every time I see someone who looks destitute drop a few coins into a panhandler’s cup while expensively dressed commuters rush past. That fits with Ashar’s conclusion that belief in the sufferer’s blamelessness and expecting a donation to make a difference predict generosity. Someone who knows what it is to suffer also knows how outside forces can land one in deep poverty through little fault of one’s own, and how wonderful it can be to have a dollar for a McDonald’s coffee.

This article also appeared in the August 2016 issue of Mindful magazine.

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