Posts in self-help
Social Dominance and the Psychology of Climate Change

There is a studied link between mindfulness and pro-environmental behaviors, but that is not the point here. Mindfulness is the art of directing awareness with openness, curiosity and flexibility. One is guided in this practice to be present with what is by paying attention to different aspects of experience, whether pleasant or unpleasant, and responding wisely. The point, according to most contemplative traditions, is to look deeper into and understand the nature of our suffering - both individually and collectively.

In the wake of wildfires, earthquakes, flooding and other storms - by now, most of us probably know someone who has been significantly impacted, perhaps even displaced, by weather. So, what is the right balance of attention with respect to awareness of the alarming trends and moral responsibility within our sphere of influence and meeting all the other demands of modern life? Especially in a society where more than 75% live paycheck to paycheck and more than half do not have enough savings to manage an unexpected $400 expense, it can be overwhelming and lead us to tune out and become unmindful.

Poverty, mental illness, addiction, and divorce are examples of common real-life challenges that may feel like and actually be more of an existential threat to one's family than global warming and certainly less abstract. But, how might the psychology be different if we could see CO2 gas in the sky or even in our home? Because everywhere, the parts per million has invisibly risen above 400 for the first time in 800,000 years, which has long been thought to be a safety threshold. This increase may begin to have negative effects on human cognition and decision-making in addition to dangerously warming the planet.

It gets more complicated with all the mixed messages, limitations in communicating science, denial, guilt and blame with respect to the multi-dimensional nature of the problem of pollution - from individual and industrial to political and spiritual.

There is one insight that is so fundamental and largely overlooked altogether. Upon knowing, one could hypothesize that global warming due to human activity is not the core problem but a symptom of something much more insidious. Still, I think there is some hope for a solution and a great turning. It is unlikely to begin with individuals extraordinarily repairing their relationship with the Earth but rather with each other.

(Episode design by Dove Dahlia)

From Harm To Harmony
From Harm To Harmony (by Dove Dahlia)

While other types of art decorate space, music decorates time. For sound to become music, it must flow across time just as water becomes a river when it is flowing. Similarly, for life to be alive, it must flow. Life unfolds across time to reveal a lifetime.

In quantum physics, the current model of the universe is string theory which purports that tiny strings are the foundation of all manifested phenomena. Michio Kaku, the co-founder of string field theory, describes physics as “the laws of harmony which you can write on vibrating strings” and the universe as a “symphony of vibrating strings.”

We are part of the cosmic music. So, how does it apply on the interpersonal level and how can we create social harmony?

(Episode image by Dove Dahlia)

http://www.michaeltoddfink.com

What Moves You

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Motivation is that missing shield of willingness. It could easily defend against the enemy of procrastination and its mysterious force that delays the completing of tasks that need to be accomplished by a certain deadline.

And I'm glad it's called "deadline" instead of "lifeline" because that's what it is in many cases - a dead line. Artificially drawn with no real life. No life means lacking love. Then, the illusory battle ensues. That play is interesting too. But where there's love, there's no dream of motivation. As for our purpose, maybe that's why it's been said to do what you love or work is love made visible.

Until then, it is helpful to understand other myths of motivation. For example it's often assumed that others succeed because they are highly-motivated. Well, the average American hits snooze 12 times each morning, and I was relieved to learn that one of my favorite prolific authors still needs to force himself to get started with writing each day after 40 years.

Objects at rest tend to stay at rest unless acted upon by a force. It's totally normal to need a little force to get going. This generates momentum and that might be a more useful concept, especially with its root word "moment" - a very brief portion of time associated with opportunity.

(Music by Lee Rosevere)

Travel with a Lantern and a Star

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Travel to new places, especially abroad, changes you forever and can reshape the mind in many positive ways.

To immerse oneself in a new culture is like turning back the clock and recapturing the child-like magic of wonder where, once again, everything feels like the first time. Words and images along with sensations and experiences can be totally fresh. This can lead to spontaneous mindfulness as abstract thought about the past and future loses its allure when our routine and its spell is totally broken.

A recent study revealed that even the anticipation of such a trip makes a person happier. The moods of subjects waiting in line for an experience were much more elevated than those waiting in line for things.

New environments help the brain to grow and remain sharp. Evidence suggests that creativity and problem-solving skills are enhanced by a whopping 50% by foreign travel, because the brain adapts and forms new connections that lead to cognitive flexibility and integration of thought.

More importantly, cross cultural experiences foster a deeper sense of self. Venturing beyond our social comfort zones and engaging in a meaningful way with people of totally different backgrounds and perspectives allows for the shedding of limiting beliefs about who we really are.

Voice of the Open River

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Rivers are worshiped in many spiritual traditions as living deities, often goddesses. Many sacred tales from around the world take place along their banks. The river also represents the flow of our life as directed by our values.

"A woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing. She goes where she will without pretense and arrives at her destination prepared to be herself and only herself." -Maya Angelou

After the Age of Anxiety

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Why are we so anxious? Is anxiety really on the rise, as it appears and does modern society actually breed it? Or is it possible that when you remove the outer clear and present dangers of the past, we are left with our ancestors' internal legacy of fear? Emotions are like ancient algorithms and the past few decades of safety is not enough time for evolution to re-program a more nuanced stress response to modern problems.

“To put is still more plainly: the desire for security and the feeling of insecurity are the same thing. To hold your breath is to lose your breath. A society based on the quest for security is nothing but a breath-retention contest in which everyone is as taut as a drum and as purple as a beet.” -Alan Watts

Loneliness and the Trance of Busyness

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Which age group is the most lonely? The elderly of World-War Eras? Baby-boomers? Millennials? Though they all suffer high levels of loneliness among their respective age segments, the answer is Generation Z.

This is the most alarming statistic and means that children are growing up in a new paradigm of psycho-social distance and mental health risk. Young people report that though they may be surrounded by others, no one knows them very well. What we are lacking is depth of connection and hopefully mindfulness, meditation and a modern path to spiritual fellowship can become the next public health revolution.

"I would rather have 2 half-dollars than 100 pennies." -a smart kid

Unlost in Transition

We have transitioned to a new year. It is a symbol of letting go of the old and embracing the new. Traditionally, it is a time to live our better intentions and establish healthier routines. On a larger scale, we are now in the process of transitioning to a new decade. What have we learned about ourselves? What do we envision not only this year but in the upcoming decade? It is an opportunity to pause and consider the steps to a more beautiful life and world.

"Transition" can be a noun or a verb. As a noun, it refers to the process or period of changing from one state or condition to another. As a verb, it refers to causing such a process. Nature will script many transitions beyond our control - sometimes painfully. The nouns are set. If we willingly change and grow in the present - learning the art of transition each day - we will be ready. Ultimately, when our transitions are mindful, crossing over can be more of a celebration.

"To change with change is the changeless state." -Bruce Lee

Symbol on the Psyche

The lotus flower grows in murky ponds which is a metaphor for making life beautiful regardless of the circumstances. And its leaf sits on top of the water but does not get wet. I was amazed when I took a lotus leaf and dunked it in water and watched all the drops roll right off like little balls of mercury. So it grows in that water but is unaffected by it.

This episode explores the deeper meaning of significant symbols from cultures around the world and various spiritual traditions and how to find symbols in daily life to guide our mindfulness practice.

"A symbol is an important thing. That is why we chose an Aztec eagle. It gives pride...When people see it they know it means dignity." -Cesar Chavez

(Image by Dove Dahlia)

Human Kind: Being Both

Beautiful people are not always good, but good people are always beautiful.

Kindness forms a virtuous feedback loop. Kindness generates happiness, and happiness motivates people to be kind. But there is a catch - intention matters. It does not work if you do something kind for others for the sake of becoming happy or gaining something in return. This is known as "strategic kindness" and only yields pleasure as opposed to "altruistic kindness" which means without the desire for a reward and leads to real happiness. fMRI studies reveal that separate regions of the brain are activated for each kind of kind, putting the "true" back in altruism.

"To a wise one, the whole earth is open - because the true country of a virtuous soul is the entire universe." –Democritus

(Image by Dove Dahlia)

Suffering Equals Pain Times Resistance
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Mindfulness involves paying attention to aspects of the present moment with openness, curiosity and flexibility. Mindfulness practices have been shown in clinical trials to reduce pain by an average of 57% and even much more in many cases. This podcast episode explores the significance of pain, how mindfulness helps and what to practice.

(Image by Dove Dahlia)

Endangered Aesthetics and the Future of Beauty
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Surveys reveal that audiences cannot tell the difference between musical compositions written by humans and those by artificial intelligence and often rate the AI compositions as more "inspiring" and "soulful."

However, there are some timeless principles for how to appreciate beauty, such as those elucidated by the heavily Buddhist-influenced yet culturally endangered Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi. Perhaps the outlook is more critical than the outcome. By mindfully tuning to the reality that nothing is perfect, nothing is complete and nothing lasts - we can experience more freedom, acceptance and a deeper sense of spiritual wonder for the unfolding of the drama of it all.

”Technology has flooded the world with music. We used to have to pay for music or make it ourselves. Playing, hearing and experiencing it was exceptional - a rare special experience. Now, hearing it is ubiquitous and silence is the rarity we pay for and savor.” –David Byrne

(Episode image by Dove Dahlia)

The Last Taboo

Death is the great mystery surrounding existence, and the nature of belief about the beyond forms the core of each religious philosophy.

But imagine if we could replay the unfolding of the universe and the emergence of life on this planet never included a physical death in the equation - would there have even been religion?

It seems the ephemeral aspect of the human body is what ultimately creates the spark of spiritual seeking in the mind. However, it remains as difficult as ever to have meaningful conversation with others about the subject. Studies suggest that less than 20% of adults dare to attempt to discuss "end-of-life" preferences with family members.

75% of Americans die in the hospital or nursing home. Additionally, medicare spends as much as $200 billion annually on care during the last two months of life. This represents a significant chunk of total health expenditures in America. It is estimated that no more than 30% of this spending leads to any real benefit for the patients. Contrast this with the fact that 88% of people on Earth believe in an afterlife. That we could be more emotionally prepared as a society is an understatement.

Ordinarily, to talk about death would seem too dark for many but there is a difference between a healthy awareness of our own mortality and an obsession about it. It is difficult to fathom how alienating it must be for those directly and privately dealing with dying or loss while the community-at-large appears fully engaged in what philosopher Ernest Becker described in "The Denial of Death" as their "immortality project."

Surveys show that millennials are the least religious generation in human history. The need for new and open-minded discussion is apparent. Surely, meditative insight now into this one certainty that connects us all - need not be dark but rather enlightening. Just think of the kindness and clarity of purpose that could manifest and how petty hangups and bitterness could be more easily released along with so much needless suffering by bringing into focus what is most essential.

"Fear of death follows from the fear of life. One who lives fully is prepared to die." -Mark Twain

(Episode design by Dove Dahlia)

Epic Philosophy of Epictetus
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Many people may think of stoicism as putting on a strong face during adversity and forcing oneself to endure without complaining. 

But stoicism is also a system of philosophy with a set of mindful principles that were carefully studied and practiced by big thinkers of ancient Greece. When a seeker deeply contemplates and scientifically experiments with these precepts, the inner resources to pass life's seemingly harshest tests will manifest even before they are needed and one can experience more mental balance like a calm mountain during a storm.

This episode explores a few of the stoic insights from a 2,000 year old text known as "The Manual" to see how this ancient wisdom can apply to modern living. Excerpts rendered into contemporary English by Sam Torode.

(Episode image by Dove Dahlia)

Putting The Awe Back In Awesome

We use the word "awesome" very loosely in conventional speech - typically to describe someone, something or a situation that's agreeable or favorable in any way. But the genuine feeling or experience of awe is rarer, much deeper and less understood when compared with other emotions. However, emerging research, such as that conducted by psychologists Keltner and Haidt, is helping to unravel this mysterious state of consciousness and it's evolutionary potential.

Awe may best be defined as a blurring of the emotional boundaries between admiration and fear. Therefore, some psychologists hypothesize that it is felt in the autonomic nervous system when both the fight-flight and relaxation responses are turned "on" - to some extent - at the same time.

This feeling can be triggered by encounters with vastness or in the presence of unfathomable qualities in nature, art, technology and people. MRI studies point to a reduction of activity in the parietal lobe of the brain. This region is involved with our sense of self as distinct in space, and inactivity in that part of the cortex may account for or correlate to self-transcendence and a sense of oneness. These brain and perceptual changes have also been observed in studies of meditation, sensory deprivation, and psychedelic drugs.

Awe is not nearly as inaccessible as it sounds. It is uncommon because it is subtle. Thus, mindfulness may be our most practical tool to safely explore this state and derive it's unique benefits.

(Episode artwork by Dove Dahlia)

Peace in the Center
Peace in the Center

The spinning wheel can be dizzying, but, in the center, there is stillness.  Similarly, the formidable waves are only found on the surface of the ocean, not when one dives deep.  Peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise or disturbance but to find calmness within the heart despite outer circumstances.  This episode unwraps some ancient contemplative texts, including passages from the Tao Te Ching, and reflects on the lives of a few peaceful figures.  

 

Clarity: Cutting Through The Clouds

Beyond the clouds, the sky is always clear. Similarly, most diamonds have flaws known as cloud inclusions, which reduce the clarity of the otherwise precious crystal and limit its brilliance or shine. A diamond is the most concentrated form of pure carbon on Earth, and the flaws are often hard to detect with the naked eye. 

The human mind also has subtle clouds that obstruct mental clarity. In psychology, these are known as cognitive biases or heuristics - patterns of flawed shortcuts in the brain.

This episode explores some of the most interesting distortions that block clear thinking. By cutting through these clouds, we can naturally illuminate the mind and let the light of knowledge shine through us.

(Episode artwork by Dove Dahlia)

Bending Time: How Physical Laws, Culture And Mindfulness Change The Clock
Time

It flies and heals. People try to make it, buy it, save it and kill it.  Yet, there is never enough of it, and it might not be real.  It is T I M E. 

Many cultures personify and deify Time.  Kronos is the father of Zeus in Greek mythology and therefore older than god.  Hindus may worship Mahakala or the lord of time.  In America, we have the expression, "Father Time is undefeated."   Even if only imaginative mythology, it can teach the importance of respecting time and using it wisely.

This episode breaks down our ideas and beliefs about time to illuminate a radically different but potentially happier and saner approach and like a child, even a slowing down of this strangely beautiful flash of life.

(Music intro by E. Fink and song "Timeless" by Lee Rosevere)