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Showing posts from November, 2012

Loosening the Grip of Core and Limiting Beliefs

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I’ve gotten free of that ignorant fist that was pinching and  twisting my secret self.  The universe and the light of the stars come through me. —Rumi
Our core beliefs are often based on our earliest and most potent fears—we construct our strongest assumptions and conclusions about life from them. This conditioning is in service of survival. Our brains are designed to anticipate the future based on the past; if something bad happened once, it can happen again.
Our brains are also biased to encode most strongly the memories of experiences that are accompanied by feelings of endangerment. This is why even a few failures can instill feelings of helplessness and deficiency, which many later successes may not be able to undo. As the saying goes, “Our memories are Velcro for painful experiences and Teflon for pleasant ones!” We are very inclined toward building our core beliefs out of experiences of hurt and fear, and holding on to them (and the underlying fears) for dear life.
Imagine that you…

Opening the Gateway of Love

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As one of the American pioneers credited for bringing Eastern spirituality to the West, Ram Dass had more than four decades of spiritual training to help guide him when he suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage in 1997. Nonetheless, in the hours after his devastating stroke, he lay in a gurney staring at the pipes on the hospital ceiling, feeling utterly helpless and alone. No uplifting thoughts came to rescue him, and he was unable to regard what was happening with mindfulness or self-compassion. In that crucial moment, as he put it bluntly, “I flunked the test.”

I sometimes tell his story to students who worry that they too have “flunked the test.” They’ve practiced meeting difficulties with mindfulness, but then they encounter a situation where the fear or distress or pain is so great that they just cannot arouse presence. They’re often left with feelings of deep discouragement and self-doubt, as if the door of refuge had been closed to them.
I start by trying to help them judge th…

SUFFERING: The Call To Investigate Beliefs

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“Reality is always kinder than the stories we tell about it.”- Byron Katie
Can you imagine understanding, even loving, someone who belongs to a group of people responsible for killing your father, brother, or best friend? Can you imagine growing close to someone whose people have driven you from your home, humiliated your family, and turned you into a refugee in your own country?

Twenty-two teenage girls from Israel and Palestine were flown in to a camp in rural New Jersey, where they would live together in the face of these questions. As part of a program called Building Bridges for Peace, these young people were called upon to examine beliefs that seemed central to their identity, beliefs that had fueled estrangement, anger, hatred, and war.

Even though they had volunteered for the program, the girls were initially mistrustful of each other, and sometimes overtly hostile. One Palestinian teen drew a line in the sand right from the start: “When we’re here, who knows, maybe we’re f…

The Opportunity of “The Magic Quarter Second”

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

Modern neuroscience has discovered a fundamental truth: Neurons that fire together, wire together. When we rehearse a looping set of thoughts and emotions, we create deeply grooved patterns of emotional reactivity. This means that the more you think and rethink about certain experiences, the stronger the memory and the more easily activated the related feelings become.
For example, if a young girl asks her father for help and he either ignores her or reacts with irritation, the emotional pain of rejection may become link…