LM 23 | Understanding Ourselves

 

What is the truth of things? In this episode, New York Times bestseller, Dr. Rick Hanson, joins Tanya Memme as they uncover the truth from the inside out. They also talk about bringing together practical brain science and the mystics to create practical, experiential things and overcome pain and loss. Get an overview of Dr. Rick’s new book, Neurodharma, as he shares some of the philosophies he found through his research. Tune in and learn how you can tap into your brain and the mystics to transform yourself and achieve inner peace.

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Uncovering The Truth From The Inside Out: What’s Happening Inside Our Brain with Dr. Rick Hanson, PhD

This is Dr. Rick Hanson. I’ve never had a clinical psychologist on the show yet. It’s exciting for me. You’re also a senior fellow at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center. You’re a New York Times bestseller and your book is called Neurodharma.

It’s book number six. My first book was called Mother Nurture. It’s about how to take care of mothers over the long haul. Body, mind, and relationship is such an important thing. Seven years later, I published Buddha’s Brain. The title explains it. How can we understand what’s happening inside of the brain when people are as strong and wise, even enlightened? How can we reverse engineer and develop more mindfulness, compassion, happiness, resilience, and strength inside ourselves? I wrote a few others after that. The Neurodharma book, I’m geeking out on the cover. It’s pretty. The subtitle explains it, New Science, Ancient Wisdom, and Seven Practices of the Highest Happiness. How do we get from down here to up there? How can we use what we learn up here, down here in the trenches every day?

I have many questions. First of all, Neurodharma, what is that if you were to explain it?

It sounds like a funny word. Dharma comes from India. It means the truth. What is the truth of things? It speaks to the truth from the inside out. What are we aware of? What are we experiencing? Including the insights and wisdom from the world’s great traditions around the world, the wisest, strongest, and happiest people who’ve ever lived. There’s neuro, which we can understand ourselves scientifically. How cool is that from the outside in? What’s going on inside the coconut?

This is brain science too.

How do we bring together the coolest brain science and the most profound wisdom and then apply it in the trenches of everyday life? That’s what the book is about. That, to me, seems like such a good thing to do. It’s useful and interesting to marinate practical brain science. It’s not hard to understand cool stuff that’s useful combined with what the mystics, saints, and teachers have been saying for the centuries and then bring it together, combine it, and turn it into practical, experiential things we can do every day. That’s what I focus on and that’s what that book is about.

There’s a lot of talk about quantum physics. Is that what you’re talking about?

Not particularly, although there’s a little bit of that. I’m a methods guy. I’m practical. I’m a longtime therapist trying to help people not be anxious, depressed, or overwhelmed. Also, how to help people build up more of a core inside that even when they’re rattled in the core of their being, there’s a fundamental sense of contentment and inner peace. How do you help yourself keep your heart open even when people are aggravating?

It’s hard to do that, especially when you feel you’ve hit what some might call the rock bottom or a tough time in life. It’s hard to stay open, especially in your heart.

It’s cool to develop subtle qualities that are useful when you’re meditating. It’s quiet in the cave or whatever. Where it gets useful is when someone interrupts you or you can’t make an internet connection or you’re trying to get some work done and your kid keeps coming in and it’s like, “Not now.” There’s a joke in the monastery, “Do you think you’re enlightened? Go home for the holidays.”

I’m always curious about people like you that are educated, but you’re also evolved. How does someone like you gain those skills? Was it from something you’ve experienced in the past? Have you ever spent time in an Ashram? Have you gone to India and setting these philosophies? How has this happened for you?

For myself, honestly, when I was a little kid, I had a strong sense that there was a lot of unnecessary unhappiness. I could see that in you too. A lot of kids know stuff they can’t put into words, but they feel it. I felt sad about it like, “Why are they unhappy? Why am I unhappy and what to do about it?” That set me on my way. I was always interested in what’s useful. What could we learn that would help me be less weird around girls when I was a teenager or preoccupied with my parents?

That’s how it starts out.

LM 23 | Understanding Ourselves

Understanding Ourselves: How do you help yourself? Keep your heart open even when people are aggravating.

 

For me, there’s a range from being not miserable to being okay to being happy to being transformed and enlightened. I’m still working on the enlightenment part. To me, that’s the process. I got interested in it. It seemed to me that three kinds of things were like treasure chests of useful ideas and information. One, Western psychology. I became a practicing psychotherapist, a lot of good information there. Two, modern brain science. What’s going on inside our bodies when we’re unhappy or when we feel good? That’s different.

What is going on inside of our bodies?

The third thing was the deepest wisdom of the ages. The deep meditators, the saints, what have they seen, not philosophy, but an actual realization? When can they come back and tell us?

Have you interviewed a lot of the ancient philosophers? Did you go live with them? Did you study with them?

Yes. I grew up in California. I had never studied in Thailand or Asia or India. I have teachers who have. I’m the next wave of teachers in America who themselves have not gone to Asia, but they’ve learned from people who did. That’s my generation, more or less. I think about the people like Thich Nhat Hanh or the Dalai Lama. I have a friend who’s a Christian minister, who is in a zone. I was like, “How do you do that? How can I work backward from you to feel more of that inside me?” What that means is that anyone can do it. We all have intuition. You have an intuition that you are in the best place you can be. Can I turn the tables on you and ask you?

Go for it.

What are some of the things that are happening? What are you doing? Where are you? What’s especially happening inside your mind when you’re in an authentically good place?

I would say that I feel an overwhelming sense of peace. It’s almost a safety. I feel like nothing can hurt me and I’m safe.

Here’s the follow-up question that, to me, is the real practical one. What’s inside your own mind that helps you drop into that feeling of safety and peace? What thoughts and attitudes? What are you doing inside yourself that helps you rest in that sanctuary?

It’s interesting because I draw upon experiences from the past, which may not have been always good. You learn from the past. I find that when I’m in a space of feeling good, it comes from the belief and always the unknown, not the belief in it. When something doesn’t exist, I still believe that that exists. I know it sounds crazy. It is a little bit of quantum physics. I do believe that you can manifest your future and your destiny because the future doesn’t exist yet and neither does the past. Right now, that exists. I find peace in that and knowing that you have the ability to create your future if you stay in that mindset. It’s not always easy to do, but I have learned through practice that interesting and wonderful things can happen.

That’s beautiful. You’re bringing up, in a sense, a body memory of that feeling of what you know to be true. For me, you have summarized a process where you acquire that body memory in the first place by going through those experiences and you help it sink in. Later, you tap into it. When you tap into it, you have another chance to reinforce it in yourself. It sinks in even a little more deeply. You can tap into it a little more readily next time.

Each one helps you get through those tough times or those not so tough times that have trust in the moments that you’re experiencing right then and there. You mention something and it was in step number two. You said that there were three things. In number two, you mentioned how there are certain things that go on in someone’s body or mind and they’re not going through a good time. I’ve never heard anybody sum it up like that. What things have you discovered?

For one, there’s all the information about stress and stress chemistry. Here’s a wild thing. When we’re stressed, irritated, frazzled, or we feel hurt, maybe somebody has been mean to us, when that happens, the animal of the body naturally produces stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol goes up into your brain. It crosses the blood-brain barrier and goes into your brain. In your brain, cortisol does two things. It’s like a one-two punch. It sensitizes a part of your brain called the amygdala. It’s like an alarm bell. The alarm bell is more sensitive and reactive due to cortisol.

It's important to focus on little things you can do something about. Click To Tweet

Second, cortisol weakens a nearby part of the brain called the hippocampus and that’s important. These are in the middle. These are ancient parts of the brain that began to develop 250 million years ago. The hippocampus calms down the alarm bell or the amygdala. The cortisol due to stress, upset, and irritation, weakens the hippocampus. This creates a vicious cycle, that feeling upset, irritated, rattled, anxious, hurt now makes us a little more sensitive, a little more vulnerable to stress and upset the next day, which increases the amount of cortisol we experience. It makes us even more vulnerable to stress and upset the day after that. That’s a thing that’s happening in the body. That’s a negative spiral. There are things we can do to counteract that. There are things we can do to grow positive spirals. That’s one example of what’s going on inside your body when you don’t feel good.

Is cortisol a hormone?

Yes. It’s a chemical.

It does other things. It makes you gain weight. It causes you to age faster.

It might. I didn’t know about gaining weight or aging faster. I tell teenagers, “Stress will give you pimples because stress is inflammatory.” They go, “I better meditate.” They’re motivated because they’re teenagers.

You tell any woman over 40, “It makes you gain weight.”

They’re motivated as well.

I’ve always known it as the stress hormone and that it causes aging faster and everything that you said too. It’s a big deal to learn how to manage your stress. This is my quarantine series because everybody has that extra stress. I’m sure that you have many clients that you’re speaking to and helping them through this time. What would you say is something that’s common that you’re helping people get through?

People commonly have a sense of helplessness. They’re overpowered by things that can’t change. It’s especially important to focus on little things you can do something about. I’m going to give you a demonstration.

I love the practical stuff.

I made some coffee. It’s a little too strong. I’m going to put some water on it. As silly as this is, this is some little corner of my life where I can exercise power. I have influence over this. I could waste this experience on my brain or I could slow it down and go, “I made something happen. I’m more like a hammer than a nail right here. I have a sense of agency. I’m not helpless about one thing, at least. I can help that sink in.” As silly as that example is, it’s powerful. We have many opportunities over the day to make choices and to feel that we are able to make a choice and we’re not helpless. That’s one way to help people these days. Another is there is certainly a sense of loss. We’ve lost things.

There are many on many levels.

It’s all true. Therefore, we need to compensate for that by helping ourselves to be aware of what we can still be thankful for and what is still working. Gratitude makes us resilient. It’s not about rose-colored glasses. It’s not about positive thinking or overlooking stuff. It’s about seeing what’s also true. That’s more important than ever to focus on what we can be grateful for and what we can be thankful for. Those are two ways to help people.

LM 23 | Understanding Ourselves

Understanding Ourselves: There are so many things to be thankful for.

 

They’re brilliant ways in which you’re saying. I remember at a point where I was going through a hard time and struggling in my own life. That was the one thing that I realized that I was suffering from a tremendous amount of loss. I had lost my career, my marriage, my house, my money. Everything was spiraling down. This is why I started the show. I was being grateful. Some people, when they hear that, they might think, “What do I have to be grateful for when all I feel is a sense of struggle?” What you said was interesting and how you said, “Be grateful for the things that exist.”

What else is true?

The bed you’re sleeping in. The coffee that we’re drinking. If you start there, it’s about planting the seeds.

The little things like the people who are decent. You and I don’t know each other well, but clearly, I can sense and recognize basic decency in you, a basic movement. I’m not flattering you. I’m going to see it. I see what’s true. We can recognize those qualities in other people and be grateful for them. We can be grateful for all the people in the world, certainly in America, who are trying to help. I think about Mister Rogers. Fred Rogers had said that when he was young and he was upset about things, his mother would tell him, “Look for the helpers. Look for people who are trying to help.” I look around and I see people in the streets trying to make the streets better. I see people delivering groceries. I see people being careful with each other, not to pass along a plague to other people. These are people who we can also be thankful for. There are many things to be thankful for. The more that the world sucks, the more important it is to recognize what we can still be thankful for.

Also, you mentioned the sense of giving, especially at a point when you don’t think you have anything left to give. There are a lot of people that probably feel that way, but there are a lot of people giving and helping.

We have to be careful that we don’t give to exhaustion if we possibly can. I’ve been lucky in my life because in many ways, I am privileged. Still, I’ve had a lot of times in my life that were horrible, challenging, painful, and bad. In those times, there is that quality of enduring. We get through it. We live through it. We’re still here. We can take comfort, maybe even take a healthy pride in that feeling inside us that we can endure and we can keep on going. That’s something to be thankful for as well and to trust Him.

When you were going through one of the hardest times in your life because that is what we’re talking about here in the show, when you hit your lowest of the low, what was that one thing, that one moment, that one day, that thing that you did or thought or someone did for you that started the spiral back up?

A key element always is something deep down inside that says, “I don’t want to feel this way.” Maybe it takes another person to jumpstart that a little bit to prime the pump. I’ve done a lot of things in wilderness, rock climbing mountains. If you start to freeze to death, you could do all the jumping jacks in the world and it will not save your life. You need an external source of heat, like a hot cup of tea or another person hugging you. Sometimes, we do need that external jumpstart. The turning point always involves, “I don’t want to feel this way.”

Is that what it was for you? There was someone there for you. Do you remember that day?

At different times, I didn’t want to feel this way. That goes to that, “I’m going to get through this.” Getting on your own side is a critical first step. I’m a longtime therapist. I found that many people are not on their own side. They’re not for themselves. They’re for others, but they’re not on their own side. That’s a key thing to develop in the first place. There are other things, too. Back on a handful of key relationships or moments when I was a kid where I felt like the other person saw me. It wasn’t that they were in love with me, but they saw me. They saw good in me. The ways that we can give that to other people is important. We can slow it down and recognize that they’re a good person over there and be interested in them. That’s such a gift to sustain interest in another person for more than 30 seconds in a row.

It’s funny because sometimes those moments come from strangers. You don’t know, but people can see you in all different walks of life. It’s happened to me and also to you. Sometimes it’s a relative or a friend. Sometimes it’s a stranger. Think about that and do that for someone else. That’s something easy to do yet a few of us do it on a daily basis. Take that moment, listen, and notice. How does that affect the human being if they were to do that? If I was to go out and take a moment, notice someone, pay attention, and comment on it, what does that do for the person doing it?

Different things happen. It’s a little cool brain science stuff that’s useful. Inside us, there are different neural networks. One of them has the name vagus, which means wandering in Latin. The vagus nerve complex. It’s important because it has two branches. Both branches originated in the brainstem. One branch goes down and it regulates the heart. You may know this already, Tanya, but maybe some people don’t. As you exhale, your heart rate slows because a part of the nervous system that handles exhaling is called the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system and it’s naturally calming. It’s the balance to the sympathetic branch of the nervous system, which gets engaged when we’re fighting or fleeing. One branch goes down, it calms us and it brings a sense of calm strength and easing inside.

When you were talking about that feeling of safety and inner peace, I could watch your face change. You were calming. You could feel it. What was also interesting, and this goes to the other part of it that’s useful, the second branch of the vagus nerve also starts in the brainstem and it goes up into our brain. Its little tendrils move into the muscles around the eyes that show how we’re feeling. It’s involved with what’s called the social engagement system. This part of us that is relational.

Be aware of what you can still be thankful for because gratitude makes you resilient. Click To Tweet

The takeaway point is this. These two branches are connected, one goes down and one goes up. The activity in one ripple into the other. If you want to become more available for a relationship, take some long exhalations, and calm your body down. If you want to calm down your body, start feeling authentic social emotions like compassion, friendliness, kindness, or love. As you feel those, that will tend to calm your body. This is an activity in the human brain. I’m explaining something neurologically that a lot of us have experience with or intuitively we’ve learned, but now that we understand it, we can do this more deliberately and skillfully.

The other thing that I find interesting, which I’m sure you know a lot about, is the fact that we can rewire our neuro system to almost not be a different person. Let’s say that we’ve lived ten years of tragedy or loss or depression or whatever. Is it true that through thought, mindset, actions, and all the above, we can reconfigure our neuro brains inside there?

I got a chance to meet your child. She was sweet. My wife and I raised two to adulthood. If you raise kids, they learn to walk instead of crawl. They learn to talk. For example, as adults, we learn to be more patient. My wife is learning to be patient with me. I’m learning to be patient with her. We learn. That healing and growing involve changes inside our nervous system. It’s understandable. There’s a famous saying, “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” We can wire happiness and resilience.

It’s the neuropathways.

It’s a two-step process, but people always forget the second step.

What’s that?

I’m going to turn the tables on you again. I’m a therapist so ask questions.

I’m like an open book.

What’s one thing you’re interested in growing or develop more inside yourself these days? Some qualities, way of being, emotion, attitude, point of view, some motivation, what’s one thing?

I’m working on reaching out to people that I feel like I may have rushed the wrong way. During the times that I was struggling, I’m trying to reach out to people that I may have not always had the tools.

That takes courage to do that. That would be a thing to grow, courage. Even an inner peace attitude that recognizes that they might have had a piece of the problem too, but still, you can focus on your part of the street. Clean up your side of the street. You’re trying to grow this. Let’s say to be brave enough to admit fault or try to repair in a relationship. How do we develop that bravery? Be brave with other people. I’ve known a lot of people who are brave out in the mountains or in business, but they were not brave at all. They were interpersonal cowards. They did not have courage in their intimate relationships, including a lot of macho men.

You’ve run into a few of them. Whether a man or a woman or beyond those categories, you want to develop this interpersonal courage. It’s a two-step process. Number one, you have to experience it. You have to get the neurons firing. You have to feel something. You feel a little courage, you feel some calm, or you feel the understanding that it’s okay to do this, “I need to do this.” You understand, “I’m scared but I can keep on going. It’s not going to kill me. It’s not going to break me.” It’s a virtuous thing to do. You’re experiencing these things. That’s step one. The necessary step two is you have to help that experience change your brain. Otherwise, it’s a passing experience. There’s no lasting value. How you help change your brain is to stay with a feeling for a breath longer. Keep those neurons firing together. They’re going to tend to wire together, too. Don’t rush on to the next feeling, savor it.

Let’s say I’m about to make a phone call to somebody or send an email or text message. You’re saying to sit in the feeling of bravery and of courage before I do anything.

LM 23 | Understanding Ourselves

Understanding Ourselves: The turning point always involves, “I don’t want to feel this way.”

 

It’ll help you with that thing you’re about to do. Also, it will grow the neural pathways of courage inside you to help it sink in. It’s that second step.

How does that happen that you’re feeling something? I’m a big believer in that, too. I always say, “What you think and what you feel is what you live.”

That’s right, for better or worse.

You’re explaining how you can create a new future.

You got it. It’s how to take charge of the brain change process from the inside out. There’s a traditional saying, “Your mind takes its shape from what it repeatedly rests upon.” Rest it on resentments, it’s going to take that shape. Rest in on a sense of courage and your own worth, that you’re a good person to be brave enough to want to repair, the brain will take that shape over time.

Regardless of how the other person reacts, that’s a whole other thing too. It’s being able to let go that go regardless if they don’t give back and you’ve spilled out your heart.

I’ll give you an example. What helps me is weird, but feel like a tree. The roots are deep in the ground that’s open to the other person. They’re like a wind blowing through me. I’m still here after the wind has gone by. You can be both. That’s a body feeling. Time and again, I’ve tried to help myself have that feeling of being both strong, resilient, and grounded while being loving and open together. I know what that feels like, again and again. Increasingly, it becomes automatic. It becomes a trait. You move from state to trait. That’s the second step, grow the traits inside.

It then becomes a part of your new personality.

It’s a new normal. It’s natural. How do you help it become increasingly natural to be that way, to be open and receptive while also being strong and self-confident deep down inside?

It’s interesting to see how certain things can affect even the physicality of a being. I look back at some photos of myself when I was going through a hard time. I look probably 5, 6, 7 years older than I do now. It’s almost like seven years later. It’s interesting how that happens. It’s important, what you’re saying, to take care of yourself because it can affect you physically to the core.

Tanya, isn’t it weird that people work hard to have a feeling?

Yes.

They want to feel happy. They want to feel of worth. They want to feel that they look okay. When it happens, we push it away, we race on past it or quickly change the channel to something else. It’s as if we’re preparing a beautiful meal. We’re hungry and then we look at it or we bring a tiny little toothpick to take it into ourselves. It’s tragic.

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Why do we do that? I do it. I see people doing it.

We do it because, like the little animals in the wild, our ancestors in the Stone Age and Jurassic Park and beyond, we’re more likely to survive and have children if they were anxious, irritable, and addicted to one thing or another. On the one hand, we have that biological legacy somewhere inside ourselves. Also, we have a culture that makes us feel uneasy if we start to feel good about ourselves. I’ve known many people who, for example, they know they look good but they’re afraid that if they recognize that and feel it, they will become lazy and lose their edge. There’s always this tension of striving, which makes us look bad over time.

That’s a whole thing. I see what you mean. You mean people that are into their physical looks. They work out every day, eat perfect, do this, and do that.

The people who are achievers. In business, those are top performers. It’s hard for us to let it sink in. If we don’t let it sink in, we get exhausted and it wears down long-term performance. It’s a counterproductive strategy.

How do we find the balance?

Let it sink in while dreaming big dreams.

What about what people are going through? Even though it’s difficult, it is the time to dream big dreams and to reinvent yourself.

There’s a whole range of experiences. This time has landed on different people in different ways. Think about the older person who’s home alone, they get the Coronavirus and it kills them. Nobody knows but it was the Coronavirus that killed them and their relatives have to deal with that. Your mother or your father is in the hospital and you’re not allowed to visit them. It lands hard. For most people, the way this has landed is that it’s been inconvenient. It’s been a hassle. It’s important to appreciate that it’s okay to be patient and to get through some inconveniences and some hassles for more months to keep millions of Americans alive, frankly, and people around the world.

We have to put up with the hassle. We need to be patient for a while. That’s part of it. I’m not trying to reduce the way it’s landed hard. For many people, it boils down to, “I’m not going to have all the money I thought I was going to have. I’m not going to have some of the convenience I thought I was going to have. I have to get through this.” We will get through this. Scientists and doctors are going to get this under control probably within years, if not sooner. That may seem like a long time, but it’s probably a lot sooner. The more we get a handle on it fast now, the less of a problem it’s going to be later. The more we do a good job, the faster we’re going to get out of this. People have to understand that we’ve got to do a good job, then we’re going to be done with this sucker. It’s helpful to understand this.

I also hear the argument where there’s all of that versus the stress, especially most people are in a little apartment. They can’t get outside, can’t exercise. They’re not getting their vitamins.

Do you want to talk about what to do about it?

Yes, but they’re saying that that’s going to kill people even more than the virus in the end. The stress of it for people losing their businesses. What does it do when that is going on?

There are two things. We have a lot of history with plagues. We understand them. We’ve lived through them. We’ve seen them. We understand that this is a germ. It’s invisible and spreads quickly. Most people don’t know they have it and they’re spreading it to others. If one person gives it to two people and then those two people give it to two more people, we’ve gone from 1 to 2 to 4 to 8 to 16 to 32 to 64. It’s doubling like that. It gets explosive. That’s what happened in the first few months in America because they let it inside. They didn’t do a good job in the beginning. People are doing a better job.

LM 23 | Understanding Ourselves

Understanding Ourselves: Neurons that fire together wire together.

 

If we didn’t do anything, this could easily kill 1% of the population. That’s three million Americans. That’s a lot of people. Let’s get real about that. The consequences of that is much greater than people being stressed at home, as difficult as that is. If we want to open up the economy, we have to do what other smart countries have done. It’s not rocket science. South Korea, Iceland, Switzerland, they got a grip and they’re starting to open up again. America is slow because we have not yet gotten a grip. That’s one part of the truth. The other part is, when you’re home, I’ll tell you two things that are helpful to do.

Number one is to take a breath and tune into that feeling inside you that you are strong. You are capable. You will get through this. It’s a total pain. It could be horrible. The real issue is that you are a strong person who will survive, who will endure, and to feel it. Not just give yourself a speech but feel that sense of strength inside that we have. That’s a powerful thing to do. When you tune into it, then you don’t feel anxious. What’s happening? You feel stronger inside yourself. That’s important.

A second thing to do that’s based in science, there’s a phrase for it, “Tend and befriend.” Tend to others. Women, especially, are naturally inclined in this way. The research about tend and befriend comes from how women can handle stress effectively. Often more effectively than men, frankly, who move into fight-flight with all the consequences. This is an important time, your program is wonderful to make connections with others, to befriend others, and to focus on the common good.

We cannot get through this alone. If people start acting highly individualistically, that will kill a lot of Americans and other people around the world. We’re talking about the people who will die that are in many ways most precious to us. They are our grandparents, our parents, our aunts and uncles, our school teachers who are retired and are in their 70s and 80s. We need to protect them. That’s the mark of truly human society. We protect the people that are most vulnerable, including those with various health conditions. Those are my two suggestions. Tune in to calm strength, the feeling inside yourself that will lower your stress and will make you more effective. It won’t solve everything. We solve problems, but we’ll be more capable. Second, tend and befriend and receive also the caring of others.

I love all of that. I don’t mean this in a good way, but we are lucky that we’re going through this with other people. Going through something like this, where you’ve lost your job, you’ve lost a family member, and you’re in these unforeseen circumstances in your own life, it’s stressful when you’re the only one. There are helpers out there. Reach out. Expand your community. Connect with others. There are many people out there that have lost their business. I always tell people to reach out to others that have been through the same thing. There is someone who can relate to almost anything you’re going through and can help.

The first step is to feel your feeling. There’s no replacing that step.

Why don’t we allow that?

We didn’t want to feel it, but you have to start there. It might be overwhelming. You empty the bucket of tears, in my own case, one spoonful at a time. You feel it and you move away and then you come back to it. We have to experience the experience and then bring compassion to ourselves. Self-compassion makes us stronger. It doesn’t make us weaker. It’s not about wallowing in self-pity. It’s about recognizing, “This suck. It’s landed hard and I don’t know what to do. It hurts. I wish I was not suffering.” As much as we could have compassion for another person, we can have compassion for ourselves.

Also, find that muscular place that says, “What am I going to do?” Make a plan as best you can, which hopefully includes stay safe. Live to see the sunrise and then tomorrow, you’ll have another chance. Those right there, feel the feelings, self-compassion, and then find that muscular feeling of being on your own side, “What am I going to do?” Make a plan. Those, for me, are first aid. They’re fundamental. Look for those things that are resources for you. Where do you draw wisdom? Where do you draw comfort? Where do you draw strength? From your teachers, from programs like yours, read books, and music. I draw strength from the example of people in history who’ve had much harder times than I’ve had and still got through it. I think about the fact that people love me. Some people do, at least. Even if I irritate them sometimes, I draw strength in that. Also, from simple pleasures such as a cup of coffee.

A lot of this is surrounding yourself with people that bring you up and recognizing the people that bring you down and not allow them in your life anymore. You need to save your own energy and your own positivity and gratefulness and all those other emotions we were talking about. You don’t have time for that.

It’s like you’re jogging on the ocean and you’re at sea level. Everything is fine. The sun is shining. People are smiling. You can afford to have a ten-pound rock in your backpack jogging along. The scientists and the national security experts in America saw this hurricane coming years ago. They started warning the hurricane. A hurricane is coming. It’s predictable. It’s still sunny. It’s offshore, but we can see its course. We don’t know the exact detail, but we know it’s a big one and it’s coming our way and it will be landing here. Those warnings were ignored. Unfortunately, the real wake-up call began to occur and here we are. Take that into account. Meanwhile, there are many ways we can feel good. We can help ourselves.

Not just during this, it’s whenever you’re in a situation where you feel lost or alone or you’re suffering from a loss or anything like that where you feel like you’ve hit rock bottom. In your book, what is your favorite chapter in that book?

Here’s my point. When we’re jogging along at sea level, we can afford to have a ten-pound brick in our backpack. When the storm comes, the wake-up call for a lot of people is that we need to drop needless baggage and focus on what is most enduring and most reliable and what speeds us. To me, that’s the big takeaway.

LM 23 | Understanding Ourselves

Neurodharma: New Science, Ancient Wisdom, and Seven Practices of the Highest Happiness

This is your sixth book. You’re used to it now. My dream is to be an author one day.

Stick with it. I’m going to turn the tables on you again. Can you write two pages?

Yes.

Can you write 500 words on two pages? Do that 100 times and you have a book. That’s the first draft of your book. Hang in there.

I am. I’ve already started it. It’s a work in progress. I’m going to get it there. Do you want to read the beginning? What chapter do you love the most where you’re like, “I cannot believe I wrote this. It’s amazing?”

For me, what the book is about is when times are hardest, we need to learn from people who are the strongest, who are the most independent, the wisest, the most stable, and loving. When everything’s falling apart, they’re calm and clear. We can learn from them. What the book is about is what can we learn from the great teachers, the great sages, the great saints, including what possibly reasonably could be going on inside their brains that enables them to be that way? How can we get that going inside our own brains as well?

I’ll read you the beginning here, “I’ve hiked a lot in the mountains and sometimes a friend, farther up the trail, has turned and looked back and encouraged me onward. Such a friendly gesture, ‘Come join me. Watch out for the slippery ice, you can do it.’ I’ve often thought about those moments while writing this book, which is about the heights of human potential about being as wise and strong, happy, and loving, as any person can ever be. If those heights are like a great mountain awakening, is the magnificent journey that carries you along toward the top. Many real people have gone very far up. The great sages and teachers throughout history, as well as others no one has heard about and I imagine them turning with a sweet smile and beckoning us to come to join them.”

How on earth did you come up with that? It’s written eloquently. There’s a lot of meaning in that.

You write from the heart. That’s important. Keep in mind a being who’s reading this, you’re speaking with. It’s a conversation. You’re holding them with you. You’re taking them with you as you go along. It goes back to something you said early on, the great gift of truly listening to another person. They feel felt. That’s a beautiful thing. As a writer, we want to have a feeling of the reader and to respect them and answer their questions naturally that are occurring or what do you want to say to them. I knew that in this book, which is about some profound things, that I wanted to have a welcoming, encouraging quality and a friendly quality that I have felt from people that have been my friends who’ve helped me along the way and in different ways, including in the path of wisdom and awakening. I wanted to bring that spirit along with them.

You do have a friendly demeanor naturally anyways. I’m excited to read your books. Should I start at book number one and then read to number six?

No. Go to Neurodharma. You could do it. People can learn more about my stuff on my website. It’s RickHanson.net. There’s a lot of freely offered stuff. A lot of it is bite-sized. There’s a place for deep practice. Clearly, you have a background and you’ve done deep things. You have sunken deep. That’s powerful. Also, I’m interested in the bite-sized practice. One exhalation, slowing the heart rate and releasing tension. One inhalation where we go, “It feels good with Tanya. This feels good. It’s okay. It’s all right.” Calming and settling, those little nuggets help us along the way.

Take that time to create and to have those nuggets as well because a lot of us run around this and that. We don’t even take the time to meditate if that’s what you want to call it or use the tools.

One thing that’s happened for me along the way is I’ve helped myself appreciate little things like water. I poured water into my cup and I’ll do it again because I need a little more and you go, “Water ready.” It’s like, “Look at that. Is that pretty or what?”

LM 23 | Understanding Ourselves

Mother Nurture: A Mother’s Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships

You can’t live without it.

The prettiness of water like, “Wow, water.” That moment right there is an opportunity to experience a little bit of delight and to get out of your own head and go, “Wow, water.” I was in India as a tourist couple of years ago. The majority of people in the world, not everyone, but certainly living in developed countries didn’t have access to fresh water. Roughly maybe about 1 billion people around the world do not have access to regular sanitation. They don’t have toilets. They don’t have anything. We take so much for granted. Every time you flush the toilet, are you grateful? You could consider that it stops working.

My father is on the board of a nonprofit called Wells of Hope. Often, I’ve gone to Guatemala with him about 5 or 6 times. What we do is we bring these huge well rigs up into these remote mountains of Jalapa and we help dig and bring water to these remote communities. It’s a lot of work. I help but I’m not doing the physical work. I’m cooking for the men that are doing it. When you see these people in these communities, they get their water from the side of the road in puddles. It’s brown and awful.

The disease, what a burden.

There are bugs in it, bubbling, frothing awful water. They’ll see my dad and his truck. They all know him there and they come out. You start to see that not everybody has this to be thankful. I can’t wait to read your book.

Thank you for that.

Thank you. This was wonderful. This will be good because you gave some wonderful bits of advice and golden nuggets of information.

It is my pleasure, Tanya. Take good care and blessings to you. People should check out my website, RickHanson.net. There are tons of resources there, most of it is free, small and a lot of nuggets and useful, practical things you can do.

Read his sixth book. I like that they’re all different too. It’s mainly all on your website.

We help ourselves. We help other people. We bring them along with us up the trail.

This was wonderful.

You take good care.

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you next time.

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About Dr. Rick Hanson

LM 23 | Understanding OurselvesRick Hanson, Ph.D., is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author. His books have been published in 29 languages and include NeurodharmaResilientHardwiring HappinessBuddha’s BrainJust One Thing, and Mother Nurture – with 900,000 copies in English alone. His free weekly newsletter has 150,000 subscribers and his online programs have scholarships available for those with financial need.

He’s lectured at NASA, Google, Oxford, and Harvard, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. An expert on positive neuroplasticity, his work has been featured on the BBC, CBS, NPR, and other major media. He began meditating in 1974 and is the founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom. He loves wilderness and taking a break from emails.

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