What if there was a game-changing relationship practice or tool or strategy that was capable of not only transforming your personal relationships, even the really tense one, but also your relationship with yourself, and even with the way to respond to others, even complete strangers, and embrace shaping the world to be a better place? Turns out, there just might be. And, this is where we’re headed today with my guest, Rick Hanson.
Rick is a psychologist, Senior Fellow at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, and New York Times best-selling author of seven books, published in 31 languages, including his latest, Making Great Relationships. He’s the founder of the Global Compassion Coalition and the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, as well as the co-host of the Being Well podcast. And, he’s lectured everywhere from NASA and Google to Oxford, and Harvard. An expert on positive neuroplasticity, his work has been featured on CBS, NPR, the BBC, and other major media. He began meditating in 1974 and has taught in meditation centers worldwide for nearly five decades
Today, we’re diving into the world of relationships, starting with how we relate to ourselves, and to those around us, with a focus on the role of compassion and self-compassion. We explore how difficult it is for many people to have self-compassion and loyalty towards themselves, which can prevent them from being able to offer compassion to others. Or, how self-compassion makes people stronger and more resilient, and is a way to stand up against the inner critic. We also touch on the importance of recognizing suffering in others and not tuning it out, and how empathy alone can lead to burnout, while compassion activates reward centers in the brain that helps replenish the energy needed to be present and be helpful to others in need.
And, we explore the importance of cultivating deep and meaningful relationships with others, and “warming the heart,” which is the practice of connecting with oneself and others on a deeper level, which leads to more compassion and empathy. We talk about the importance of seeing the person behind the eyes and putting no one out of your heart, even if you need to change the form of your relationship with them, and how anger can be useful if we observe the two-stage process of getting angry, and learn to use anger without letting it use us. Finally, we discuss the importance of setting boundaries, standing up for yourself, and taking care of yourself while still retaining an open-heartedness and benevolence towards others.
TW: brief mention of suicidal thoughts
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Rick Hanson Transcript
Transcripts of our episodes are made available as soon as possible. They are not fully edited for grammar or spelling.[00:00:00] These days, we can so easily tune out the realness, the piercing tenderness of what it’s like to be another person. And so much of what we’re advocating for is just start with one human heart at a time. If compassion is a kind of superpower, it enabled our species to survive. Let’s tap into that superpower and be willing to be brave enough to make room enough for other people to land in your heart.
So what if there was a game-changing relationship practice, or tool or set of strategies that was capable of not only transforming your personal relationships, even the really tense ones by the. But also your relationship with yourself and even the way you respond to others, even complete strangers, and embrace shaping the world around you to be a better place.
Well, it turns out, there just might be. And this is where we’re headed today with my guest Rick Hansen. So Rick is a psychologist, senior fellow at uc, Berkeley’s [00:01:00] Greater Good Science Center and New York Times bestselling author of seven books published in 31 languages, including his latest, making great Relat.
He’s the founder of the Global Compassion Coalition and the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, as well as the co-host of the Being Well podcast. And Rick has lectured everywhere from NASA on Google to Oxford and Harvard. He’s an expert on positive neuroplasticity, and his work has been featured everywhere from CBS to npr, bbc, and so many other.
He actually began meditating in 1974 and has taught in meditation centers worldwide for nearly five decades. And today we’re diving into the world of relationships, starting with how we relate to ourselves and to those around us. With a focus on the role of compassion and self-compassion, we explore how difficult it is for many people to have self-compassion and really loyalty towards themselves, which can prevent us from being able to offer compassion to.
Or how self-compassion [00:02:00] makes people stronger and more resilient and is actually a way to stand up against our inner critics. We also touch on the importance of recognizing suffering in others and not tuning it out, and how empathy alone can lead to burnout and depletion while compassion activates reward centers in the brain.
That help really replenish the energy needed to be present and helpful to others in need. And we explore the importance of cultivating deep and meaningful relationships with others. And something he calls warming the heart, which is the practice of connecting with oneself and others on really a deeper level, which leads to more compassion and empathy.
And we talk about the importance of seeing the person behind the eyes and putting no one out of your. Even if you need to change the form or nature of your relationship with them and how anger can actually be useful if we observe a two-stage process of getting angry and then learn to use anger without letting it use us.
And finally, we discuss the importance of setting boundaries, standing up for [00:03:00] yourself. And taking care of yourself while still really retaining an open-heartedness and benevolence towards others. I am so excited to share this conversation with you. I’m Jonathan Fields, and this is Good Life Project.
Which is really excited to dive into, explore some of the many, many ideas from the book, but also even before we we jump into that, curious around some of the work that you’ve been doing with the Global Compassion Coalition. Because it seems like this is bigger than a project. This is a devotion that brings people together around compassion, but it’s built into the idea of what you have built here, along with others is the notion of compassionate scale.
So for those who’ve never have no exposure to this concept, take me into it a bit. Oh sure. Thanks for asking actually. So here we. 8 billion of [00:04:00] us living on planet Earth, and we take for granted ways of living that are completely unnatural, abnormal to our biological template, in which, for example, 97% of the 300,000 years our species has walked the earth.
Everyone who lived did so in the context of a small hunter gatherer. Typically spending most of your days with the same 40 or 50 people with a little flow out and a little flow into your band, and we evolved a unique. Strategy for living together that was extremely effective. Unlike any other of the hundreds, several hundred primate species we’re unique because of our big social brains in establishing, uh, social life on a foundation of what’s called caring and sharing, or in other words, compassion and justice.
A more primitive strategy called holding [00:05:00] and controlling. These are anthropological terms involves alpha dominance in which alphas hold onto food and control. Reproductive access. Humans unleashed. Our ancestors unleashed that primitive strategy on other bands, sometimes often, but inside the band, they cooperated.
It’s remarkable to appreciate that that fundamental way of life is basic to. But when agriculture came in with large surpluses, enabling large populations and concentrations of wealth and power, that unique human evolved strategy for politics, for regulating power, for sharing resources, for protecting those who are vulnerable was disrupted.
And it’s been more or less game of throne. For the last 10,000 years. Those are the facts. And what the Global Compassion Coalition is about is scaling what worked in our. Ancestors’ lives. For 97% of the time we’ve [00:06:00] been on this planet. We’re not gonna go back to this Don age. This is not all about that. I like E S P N, I like ibuprofen, you know, I like access to fresh food, , you know, et cetera.
But how do you actually restore compassion and justice at the foundation of society? So especially for the 80 to 90% of the population in the world who live under the boot of a tyrant in daily. How do you actually do that? And it’s clear that the only way to do that is to take a page out of our ancestor’s book and the many must join together to regulate the powerful few.
It’s not about making enemies out of the powerful few, but it’s actually understanding that so much of the suffering that people experience day to day, like the fact that 10,000 children a day die of hunger worldwide, the fact that eight. Possess as much wealth as 4 billion people. These are facts, [00:07:00]and those facts drive vast systems of injustice that create so much preventable human suffering.
So the vision of this coalition is to be big enough to be strong enough to actually make a dent in things like child poverty, child hunger, climate change, wealth inequality, discrimination at a global. I don’t think we’ll see the results in my lifetime, but we have to start at some point. Right, and that’s the vision.
To create a new kind of global commons that, um, is focused on four things. The study, education, application, and advocacy of compassion in a way that enables people at scale to pool their money, to pool their effort, to pool their time in a way that’s big enough to actually make the kind of difference that we long for.
Yeah, I mean, such a powerful vision, the way that you lay it out and certain. [00:08:00] We all live in a world where we feel the need for something that will allow us to see the humanity in others and, and hope that they see the same in ourselves, so that we can feel more connected, more dignity centered, more empathetic, more altruistic.
What jumped out at me as you’re sharing this is. The size of the vision is so big. What you’re talking about is so big. I’m curious whether, you know, as you build this out, this engine for, for global compassion, how do you actually get people to raise their hand when you look at the scale of this? So many people don’t actually even lift a finger to do anything that is in line with their values.
Yeah. Because they just, they look at the size of the problem and they say, but who am I? Like, there’s nothing that I can do to make a difference. And when you present something like this, on the one hand, the vision is so astonishing and you look at it and you say, yes, yes, yes, yes. and then you look at the state of the world [00:09:00] and you say, how on earth could this actually even succeed?
I’m curious because you’ve been in it. Yeah. How has it been rallying people and. Inviting them to really buy into the possibility of this being real. Yeah. Well, I appreciate you letting me, you know, rant here, a bit and I’ll try to be more succinct. Yeah. I’m really fascinated by it. We now on, it’s a great question.
First, I think a lot of people feel deep down that something has just gone wrong. The game is rigged. Even for people who are quite privileged like I am, I’m appalled at the unfairness of the political system, whether it’s here in America or around the world. Many, many people, I think, have a growing feeling of there’s something crazy, and it’s often the younger people who feel it, but with that is despair.
Just like you said, you feel hopeless. You can’t do anything about it. I think there’s a feeling among people that the only way. Is to come together at scale that [00:10:00] can stand up to corporate power, that can stand up in the countries around the world that are, you know, just beginning to develop civil society and have a long way to go.
Now if people don’t wanna participate, okay, fine, we’re gonna keep going. And our main focus is not replacing any organization but celebrating. The literally tens of thousands of people in organizations worldwide that are trying to make the world better. Yeah. With the compassion at the center of that.
Yeah. Response to suffering, preventable suffering, especially. Right. And at the heart of that is, you know, being able to actually. Not just move through life within us and them mentality. Yeah. Which has been so ingrained in us . Yeah. From the earliest days in our lives. It’s sort of like you have limited, you know, there’s scarcity of resources and the only reason that you come together like is because like the US is protected and then we get better access to the resources rather than we’re at a moment.
We all need [00:11:00] to be the US and to Yeah, that’s right. To mobilize on the scale you’re talking about, you know, in the name of compassion and decreasing global suffering. Yeah. Regardless of if we know the person, if they look like us, if they believe like us. Yeah. Is a radical yet profoundly powerful idea. I know.
Thank you for saying that. And part of what’s very hopeful is to realize that numerous coalitions have. At scale to drive systemic change. Like I grew up in America in, in the sixties and seventies, and I kind of came of age politically in the late sixties, and I was still pretty young. I was a teenager and I saw the civil rights movement, environmentalism, gay rights, women’s rights, four major movements, transformational in America.
How did they get successful? A small group of people initially. It took generations. We still have a long way to go, but they came together at scale and they were willing to be diverse and heterogeneous [00:12:00] in their scale. They didn’t have purity tests. Basically, if you were for the central issue, that was good enough.
If you were for it because you were a born again Christian, that was great enough. If you were for it because you were a secular atheist philosopher, that was good enough if you were just for it because you. were pissed off at injustice. That was good enough, you know, if you were for it, cuz you would take an L s D and you had this vision of a hippie world for everybody that was good enough.
Right. You know, there are many examples of that also, I just thinking recently about, remember how there used to be a hole in the ozone layer? Mm-hmm. vaguely in the past. I remember that was like the big thing everyone, it’s, it’s largely healed now, isn’t it? For what Exactly. Right. A coalition formed to outlaw fluorocarbon.
Of different kinds, you know, and spray bottles and things like that. And guess what? No more hole in the ozone layer. You know, in England, a coalition came together to outlaw the slave trade in the early 18 hundreds. [00:13:00] That’s a good example. And so I just think it’s important to appreciate that things do work.
Things really do work, but we need to come together and we need to not be naive. It’s free to join the coalition. Yeah. If you have a belly button, you’re qualified to join the coalition. And even if you don’t, you probably still have . Yeah, yeah, yeah. If you’re an ai, we’re gonna talk maybe, but Okay. And organizations as well.
There’s no cost. I mean, obviously we appreciate donations and you know, to, to be able to have impact, but it’s about numbers, it’s about people basically saying suffering matters. Other people matter. These days we can so easily tune out the realness. The piercing tenderness of what it’s like to be another person.
And so much of what we’re advocating for is just start with one human heart at a time. If compassion is a kind of superpower, it enabled our species to survive through [00:14:00] extraordinary climate change over 300,000 years. Tool making Hamed ancestors a couple million years before that, you know, let’s tap into that.
Super. And be willing to have, be brave enough to make room enough for other people to land in your heart. Hmm. Which of course is alongside letting yourself land in your heart too. Right. And um, feeling I think is terrifying to a lot of people right now. And I almost wonder if we feel it. I think a lot of the world has actually been so exposed to so much sufferings.
in their community. Yeah. And in the western world, a lot of us have been like, we’ve had more of an ability to sort of like put it over there. Yeah. And now it’s kind of landing at everybody’s doorstep and the level has ratcheted up and it’s almost like people are, they’re putting up even higher walls because they feel like, yeah, if I let it in, I don’t know if I’ll be able to breathe, let alone actually act in a way where I could be of service to myself and others.[00:15:00] Yeah. In trying to actually. Relief suffering in some way, shape, or form. Yeah. So it’s almost like a defense mechanism I feel like, to a certain extent. I think you’re right. And here’s where a little brain science is actually super useful. Hmm. Besides being cool, but it’s useful, , it’s that actually empathy alone can lead to burnout.
You can lead to feeling flooded, even re-traumatized by what you’re feeling, but compassion because it’s sweet along with the. It’s bittersweet. There’s the sense of the suffering. So there’s an, there’s an empathy for the suffering along with a benevolence, a caring, a lovingness, a kindness, a friendliness, a respect, depending on the nuances of the particular situation.
And that aspect. The caringness aspect activates reward centers in the. because it feels good to be caring. It feels good to be social. It feels good to be loving, you know, to to feel supportive, to be loyal, [00:16:00] right? Those have reward systems in the brain because it helped our ancestors survive at the individual level and also at the group level, where in which genes were still shared.
And so groups. In effect, we’re a unit of evolution as well, given that they bread inside their group to a large extent. So if you are not just empathic, but you move into that compassionate energy, that those qualities, then it’s not overwhelming to open your heart. Yeah. Super powerful. It. We’ve been talking about sort of compassionate scale and allowing others in net scale and, um, relatedness at scale.
Let’s zoom the lens in a little bit here because, you know, fundamentally we can talk about people on the other side of the world, but I often wonder whether people who. Who say yes to something big and far away, and then ignoring the people who are right in front of them, people who are right next to them.[00:17:00]
You know, on the one hand we’ve been talking about why people don’t do this, why don’t get involved? Yeah. And on the other hand, I almost feel like there’s a pendulum swing the other direction, which you sometimes see where somebody goes all in almost as an avoidance mechanism for the. Difficult nature of a relationship with a child or with a partner, or with a sibling, or with a parent, or, you know.
So let’s sort of zoom meins in a little bit here and talk about how we relate to people right next to us on a daily basis. And this is certainly the focus of. your most recent book around really, how do we cultivate relationships that are deep and meaningful and nourishing? Yeah. You know, one of the things that you talked about early Hana and the book is great and, and I love the way that you actually set it up.
It’s sort these 50 different things you can kind of dip in wherever you want. Yeah. , you know, it’s almost like That’s right. It’s like a daily devotional almost to a certain extent. Yeah. , one of the things that you talk about early on is this notion of being loyal to yourself. Yeah. And how important it is, and also how much people struggle with that.
And, and as I was [00:18:00] reading that, I’m, I’m thinking to myself, I get that and I wonder if part of what’s going on there is also, it’s hard to be loyal to someone that you, you don’t really know all that well, and I feel like a lot of us really don’t know ourselves. All that. That’s really interesting. As a longtime therapist, I would agree with you.
I’m reminded somehow of this line, I think from James Joyce, uh, in the Dubliners. Maybe, you know, I’m not a super literary person though, but I remember this line that Mr. Smith or something buddy lived at some distance from himself, right? I think a lot of people live at some distance. I did. I entered adulthood, you know, as a late teenager, let’s say numb from the neck.
That’s how it felt and absolutely. And I find also as a longtime therapist, that half the people I saw coming into my office, uh, who had real issues, they cared immensely about the challenges and the suffering of other people. They were loyal to [00:19:00] others. They would immediately mobilized, they would act. You used that word mobilize earlier.
They would mobilize to do something for their friend, their mate, their parents, their kids. Same. Given the same level of challenge or suffering in themselves. They were in relationship to it. They would not mobilize around it, even at the most basic level of bringing compassion to themselves for it or a sense of, um, that what was happening to them was unfair, when in fact they were being mistreated by other people.
And so igniting the pilot light, it’s absolutely the very beginning because if that pilot light is not ignite, You can read all the self-help books in the world, you can listen to all the cool podcasts in the world, you know, and it won’t make a difference because it, it just, there’s no pilot light there.
So that’s one of the absolute first things to do. And I find, especially for people who belong to any group that’s been kind of systematically told that they don’t matter as [00:20:00] much as others. Women as a group, people of color, as a. Other different groups. If a person is a member of those particular groups, it’s especially important to be loyal to yourself.
Hmm. And easier said than done. That’s where, you know, I’m, I’m, uh, my kids joke me, they say, okay, dad, what’s your seven point plan for that one ? You know, we’re like a four by 12 matrix, you know, and you very graciously, like with every time you ring up like one of these 50 different things, you’re like, and I’m gonna give you something to do also.
So here. Oh yeah. To a fault. You know, I, I think about nothing. Nothing wrong with that. I know. Show don’t tell, right? You know, a rules full of great advice. Alright? How do I do it? What do I do? Thank you. Captain. Obvious, right? Oh, be loyal to yourself. or some of the other chapters admit fault and move on one of my favorites, right?
Or see the being behind the eyes or stand up to bullies. How do you actually. How do you actually do it? Say what you want. How do you actually do it? Give them what they want. How do you actually do it? So I’m, I’m a maniac for [00:21:00] that sort of thing. I find about stand being loyal to yourself. There are three things clearly you can do.
One is to recognize the fairness of it, that it’s moral. It’s principled. Particularly not because you’re wanting to become some philosopher at Harvard, but because many people have a belief system that somehow it’s bad to be on their own side. Hmm. It’s a sin. They’re not allowed. It’s selfish. It’s selfish.
I’m gonna give less to others. They’re all these beliefs and it’s really helpful to just challenge them and say, wait a second. I would want my friend to be loyal to themselves. I could also recognize that as people take care of themselves objectively, they have more to offer to others. It’s generous to others to fill up your own cup.
Oh, but gee, do I apply that thinking to myself? Usually not. So that’s first. It’s principled. Second to bring the heart into it. To realize, wow, my suffering matters the way I’m sad. I’m [00:22:00] frustrated. I feel let down. I’m beleaguered. I’m worn out. I feel like I’m running on empty. That’s matters. And I’m not wallowing in self-pity to bring myself self-compassion.
There’s a warmth there. There’s a warm feeling. And then the third aspect of being loyal to yourself is muscular. You just, you have mox. You just have this fundamental sense of like you would for a friend. Like I think about Gandolph, you know, cause I’m a Lord of the Rings nut. You know, at that ur, the bridge, you know, the whatever that creature from the depths where the ball rocks coming up, you know, Gandolph was like Lord pass.
You know? And has that strength to it. To bring that kind of strength to ourselves or on our own. that dimension of moxie. So any one of those three are good ways to be more on your own side to be for yourself. And all three together are a good combination. Yeah. And as you mentioned, you know, and this kind of ties in with a couple of the other things that sort of fall under the befriending [00:23:00]yourself, you know, if Yeah.
If we’re gonna be in relation to others, part of it is we really actually need to be in relationship with ourselves first. Yeah. Um, and then you just mentioned like it’s this notion also of self-compassion. Yeah. And we’ve been talking about compassion towards others. We’re human. We mess up all day every day.
Yeah. Like we’re not the people that we thought we would be. We’re not where we thought we would be in life. We haven’t accomplished this, that, and the other thing. Yeah. And the notion of having compassion for ourselves and then forgiving our humanity at the same time again, is something that I think when you sort of offer it up cognitively, people are like, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, that makes sense.
But in practice, on a day-to-day basis, it seems so hard to operationalize. Well, you’re taking a great summary. You have now summarized probably 50 studies on self-compassion, uh, including that most people are much more inclined to have empathy for the sorrows of others and to have a caring response toward it.
That’s the essence of compassion than [00:24:00] they are to themselves. And yet again, those 50 studies, or 500 probably at this point, show that compassion for yourself makes you strong. People are more resilient. They’re also more ambitious because a lot of people are just hammered by an inner critic. And if you have compassion for yourself, that’s a way to stand up against the inner critic, and it’s also a way to foster a greater sense of worth.
I’ve known a number of people who have very high self-esteem. They can give you a long list of their positive qualities, but they feel bad about themselves. Deep down, they feel inadequate, ashamed, like a bad person. Unlovable, broken, damaged goods. Compassion for yourself is very healing for all of those things.
You know when you, when something happens, so there you are, you’re interacting with your boss, your partner, your kid, your neighbor. You start to realize, whoa, something’s bothering me here. Something happened. You know, maybe they said something weird. [00:25:00] Maybe you said something and now you’re mad at yourself about it.
You didn’t get what you wanted. They kind of put you down in some way, maybe, or just ignored you first. Recognize it. Be mindful. Second, be compassionate toward yourself. Third, be active. Do. Maybe inside your mind alone, and what you do is you think to yourself, I’m not gonna talk to that person anymore, . Or, you know, that was the last time I’m gonna go on a date with them, or do a business project with them.
You know, maybe it’s just entirely in your own mind. But the point is, compassion for yourself is not where you, and it’s where you start. It’s where you start, and then you keep on. No, that makes a lot of sense. And that bridging that gap, it sounds like, well, of course it makes sense, but then to actually do it, it’s a practice I would imagine.
You know, like little steps. Yeah. And, and over and over and over. Until it becomes more just your way of being. Yeah. You know, you start out talking a lot about, okay, so let’s really get acquainted with ourselves. because that is the core [00:26:00] of, of being able to relate to other human beings, and hopefully they’re doing the same in some level.
And then you move into sort of an exploration of different ideas around a category that you would call loosely warming the heart. Yeah. Opening up that conversation is the notion of seeing the person behind the eyes, if I remember the language. Yeah, that’s right. Take me a little bit deeper into what you mean by that.
Well, to do it in real time, as soon as you started talking about it within a couple of seconds. We’re doing this online, you know, it’s your two dimensional thumbnail on my screen, and yet boom, suddenly I’m tracking you in a different kind of a way. And it’s not to be weird or stare at people in some new age, invasive sense, like, whoa.
But, um, it’s to realize that like, you’re a cool guy, you’re articulate, you’re, you know, you’re intelligent, you know, and all the rest and behind the. Behind the personality, behind the persona is a real person, [00:27:00] is a being as process. You know, I have a Buddhist orientation, so I think of the self as process, self thing.
Being, being, there’s being there that you matter to you, right? There’s a real person there, and as soon as I slow down to get a sense of a being, Behind your eyes, you know, I could close my eyes. I would still be aware of, you know, the being in you immediately lose me to treating you better . Not that I’ve been treating you badly, but to be alert in a whole new kind of way.
Cuz it’s like there’s a sensitivity there. There, there’s a person there. This is a totally wacko metaphor cuz I’ve never golfed in any serious way, but I think about golf shoes or those little spikes I guess they have. Uh, and I just think that we’re all wearing golf shoes. Kind of walking on top of each other, you know?
And it’s when you realize that there’s someone over there who’s really affected by how they’re [00:28:00] treated, you take off your golf shoes, , you walk it with socks on, right? Instead of these prickly things that are so wounding to other people. Yeah. I think it’s so powerful and I often wonder. How technology affects this capacity.
On the one hand, it flattens the world where, you know, like I’m in one place, you’re in another place tomorrow. I could be talking to somebody literally on the other side of the world and it’s like we’re side by side on the same screen. It’s fantastic. Yeah. You know, we’re not Luddites. It does so much to help bridge the gap between people who, but for the fact that it exists would never actually be in conversation, in partnership.
And at the same time, it is so much. To not see the person behind the eyes. Yeah. To say things that you would never dream of saying, had you been standing in front of that person with their five-year-old child holding their hand next to them, it’s truth. I have a hint of, you know, my, the hair on. [00:29:00] Back of my neck is up a little bit and I wanna say something, or I’m gonna drop a comment here online.
You know, like this is sort of like taking a page out of your playbook here. It’s like I really wanna just connect with the fact that this person is a human being. Yeah. And they’re struggling and they’ve got burdens and they’ve got things that they’re carrying and they’ve got family and they’ve got love and they’ve got, and I think it really, when you can just literally take a.
And say, you know, like there, but for God’s grace, go, aye. It changes the way that we not only see, but relate to people as you know, like living, breathing units of dignity that deserve to be treated with that level of respect. That’s beautifully said, really beautifully said. I find also that when we can just be rested in ordinary human related, Almost old school neighborliness, just being present, um, slowing down enough to, to really just be present with other people and to create an [00:30:00] opening in which they can be present as well.
When we do that, it actually puts us on stronger ground to assert ourselves if we need to. Yeah. That makes. Something else that you talk about sort of under this warming the heart umbrella is this notion of putting no one out of your heart. You’re going after it. I am the new Jonathan. This is good because this is something.
That I struggle with. Mm-hmm. , I have to imagine so many people struggle with the notion that, you know, you feel somebody wronged or harmed by somebody. Yeah. And all you wanna do is literally figure out every wall that you can put up so that they don’t exist in your world, in your life, in your heart anymore.
You don’t want them, because that way you can’t be re harmed. You can’t re-experience it like you’re just jetting it. But you have an interesting invitation to explore a bit of a different. It’s important to realize that, you know, the classic line prove, uh, fences, make for good neighbors. [00:31:00]Paradoxically, autonomy supports intimacy.
It’s a fancy way of putting it. And so we need to retain the right to put someone out of our business if they don’t come to work. Regularly, or we need to put someone out of our bed. It’s just not going well as a romantic partner. But do we need to put them out of our heart? We may need to put them out of positions of power.
We may even need to put them out of mainstream society, at least for a while, notwithstanding the enormous issues with the whole penal system and all the rest of that. We may need to do things like that, but do we have to put them out of our. That distinction is really powerful. Retaining for yourself the right to do what you need to do to protect yourself and those you care about without turning that other person into an enemy.
Without turning them into an it. You may know the structure you probably do of Martin Buber, these three kinds of [00:32:00] relationships. I thun and I think about the ways in which we tend to. People you can just see in the, you know, the rationale for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the ting from the side of Putin, of the Ukrainian people.
You can think of the ting of certain people over the centuries, and you can feel it when someone is ting you when they are not holding you in their heart, rather than bowing you, even if they disagree with you. And for me, it’s just turned into a beautiful practice that retains an inner. Instead of being hijacked, played like a puppet by the inner strings of the reactive mind that want to dress people out of the heart with grievances and anger and vengeance and punishing ill will toward them instead of that to retain a fundamental freedom that one your or mine one’s expression radiating [00:33:00]outflowing.
Decency and compassion and humanity is unconditional. It’s like a radiating field of caring and kindness that others move through. Now, we may change the form of our relationship. We may put them out of our company, put them out of our bed, put them out of our halls of power, but our fundamental stance of open-hearted benevolence and clear seeing.
Sentience in both humans and non-human animals. The quivering vulnerability of all sentient beings, you know, to hold that recognition means retaining a fundamental inner freedom that says you can take all kinds of things from me, that you cannot take from me. My capacity to see the good in you. You know that it was immediately as, as soon as I, I first read, just the notion immediately comes to mind is the meta meditation, loving kindness [00:34:00] meditation where, yeah, for those who aren’t familiar with it, you see recite a, any variation of lines, which sort of says, you know, like, May I be healthy, happy, uh, well, uh, but at some point then you bring to mind somebody who you know is who you love or you care about.
So you bring to mind somebody who’s a perfect stranger. And then yeah, kind of somewhere down the road you bring to mind somebody who you struggle with. Maybe that person who’s brought you wrong. And the invitation is wish. These same things. It was the same goodness. Yeah. Towards that person. Yeah. And I’ve struggled with that part of the meditation in the past.
Not that I’m at odds with many people in my life, but on occasion where there is where I really kind of think about someone who I maybe don’t even know, but maybe it’s out there in the world that I feel is not doing good things. But I feel like it’s a really powerful practice to keep bringing them into that expression of openness and compassion and wishing well.
because almost like on an identity level, I wanna see [00:35:00] myself as, I’m the type of person who is able to hold this. Mm-hmm. , no matter what comes my way. Yeah. Maybe selfishly do it more for me than for anyone else. Well, what you said there is really true that while there’s a moral basis for resting in this stance, And why in all the world’s spiritual traditions as well as in secular humanism, there’s a valuing of this non referential.
In other words, it’s not about any particular being, it’s a general stance. Omitting none in the language of early Buddhism, omitting none. In addition to the moral aspects of that, it’s enlightened self-interest through and through, and people can feel it that as you rest in. Sense of open-heartedness and, and good wishes.
In a context in which you are taking care of yourself, you’re standing up for your own needs and rights, you know you’re protecting yourself, setting boundaries and all the rest. As you rest in that feeling [00:36:00] of open-hearted, warmheartedness, it feeds you. As it flows through you, it protects you. It helps you feel less upset about the people who’ve wronged you, and it also puts you in a much more, a much stronger position pragmatically.
To elicit better treatment of you from other. and for those moments where you just can’t let something go, and of course we’ve all had them, had ’em in the past, we’ll have them again. Or maybe you’re just, you know, you’re bound up in a conversation or a negotiation or an argument or some kind of conflict with somebody who maybe you don’t care if they continue to be in your life or maybe actually really do maybe the, the partner that you have, you above them dearly, but you’re in a moment of conflict.
Anger can flare. All these different emotions flare up and one of the imitations that you offer, um, you know, and this again is sort of you just mentioned, it’s important to also not be a doormat in, in moments. Yeah. Stand up for yourself, you know, like be a, you know, [00:37:00] find the strength to actually express who you are and stand in it.
You also explore the notion of anger and that context ah, and the idea of using it and not letting it use you. Yeah. I’m glad you highlighted that. And that’s been a journey for me personally. To appreciate that. While I do not think of myself as a typically angry person, when I get angry, it can have real impact.
And there’s, um, interesting neurological fact that of our so-called four types of negative emotions, uh, anger, sorrow, hurt or shame and fear the big. . People don’t like feeling anxious. They don’t like feeling inadequate or ashamed or remorseful or you know that or hurt, and they don’t like feeling sad.
Okay, but anger. Anger actually activates reward systems in your brain. Oh, interest involving interesting dopamine and norepinephrine, you know? Yeah. There’s that rush. And it’s organizing and, um, it serves a function of [00:38:00] highlighting what’s problematic and, and mobilizing energy. It’s, it’s helpful and especially if a person belongs to a group that’s been systematically mistreated, uh, often while having their anger suppressed and being told that it’s.
Their fault or it’s a pathology. It’s especially important to hear that. I’m not talking about suppressing your anger and all the rest of that. Still anger of those four emotions is the most consequential interpersonally. A lot of research shows that expressed anger is much more negatively impactful than expressed sadness or shame or fear, typically in relationships.
And we know what it’s like to be on the receiving. Of somebody you know who’s been angry at it. There’s a proverb that describes anger with its honeyed tip and poisoned barb. Okay, so what to do about it, right? For me, what’s really helpful is to observe the two stage process of getting angry. Again, this is science [00:39:00] here that very often there’s a buildup phase in which we’re getting primed.
Maybe we’re kind of hungry, maybe we’re irritated from the long commute. Maybe there’ve been a series of small things. These are like little match heads in a corner, and that’s the priming. And then finally the spark comes. And even if it’s a small. It’s that proverbial final straw that broke the camel’s back and off goes the, the flame.
So one of the keys is to catch stuff early on. That’s huge in relationships. Hmm. And to either talk about it early on or to let it go , but to just have it fester in the corner, you know, while you’re ruminating about it, building up presentments. That’s just tossing match headss in the corner waiting for a spark to land first.
Second, when something does trigger you really, really, really try to slow it down. I mean, from my own [00:40:00] experience, uh, my own mistakes in relationships often came from. Flashing my anger flaring at people in different ways, even in ways that struck me as seemingly mild, like exasperated or rolling my eyes had a lot of impact.
You know, and there’s this distinction you probably know from diversity work between intent and impact. We can have pretty mild. Or just positive intent. We’re trying to help someone we care about, you know, do better next time. Okay. It’s well-intended, but the impact’s really negative to recognize that.
And so for me, slowing it down and also feeling into what’s under the anger. Because very often what’s under the anger is frustration or. Or hurt. Right. And if we can speak about the frustration, feeling obstructed and attaining an important goal, [00:41:00] or being anxious about something, being worried about something, feeling threatened in some way, or feeling hurt, feeling let down.
Feeling mistreated, you know, affronted, provoked by another person. If we can just talk about those deeper, softer feelings, first of all, it’s usually gonna go a lot better with that other person. And second, you’re gonna be more in touch with yourself. You’re instead of getting hijacked by righteous anger and identifying with the case that emerges in your mind, I would’ve been a good lawyer and thank goodness I did not go down that road , you know, in a lot of ways cuz I might have gotten hijacked by it.
I went down a become a therapist road and become a, you know, Mindfulness teacher wrote instead, man, we can get so hijacked by that case. I’m right. We build up our case. Watch out for that. Don’t let it hijack you. And one great way to prevent that is to get in touch with the softer, deeper feelings underneath the anger.
So those are different ways to practice with anger. It’s a big practice. [00:42:00] So what I heard is you’re saying. There actually is a difference between lawyers and therapists and meditation teachers. . Well, I’m for lawyers, you know, but , you’re talking to a former lawyer in a very past life. Oh, by the way, I had no idea.
You’re covering attorneys when decades passed at this point in my life. But the point you make that, I mean like, all kidding aside, yeah, there’s information in anger. Yeah. And like what is it the frustration? Is it the fear? Is it the sadness? Is it the grief? Or did you just sleep really badly the night before?
Yeah. And you really don’t have the capacity. Yeah. To just be human for a day and you just need to walk away and go take a nap, which I’ve done, you know? Almost everything that we’re talking about here though, like what strikes me is that there’s an underlying assumption that we haven’t really surfaced yet, which is that in order to do any of these things, in order to recognize any of these things that we’re talking about, requires a certain level of self-awareness.
And if we don’t have that level of self-awareness, you know, like [00:43:00] it’s very hard to, to realize when you’re in the priming stage of anger or, you know, like realize when you’re in the triggered stage and then like actively try and slow it down or realize that it’s actually fear speaking or sadness speaking instead of this.
And similar with what all the other things that we’re talking about. and you know, you as somebody who, you know, as you mentioned, has been in the British tradition for many years and, and teaching, I’m always a little bit amazed that awareness is, is such a touchstone of our ability to actually be intentional in the way that we treat both ourselves and others around us and craft the world that we want.
And yet it’s something that is. Really trained or offered in any broad educational sense unless we actively go and seek it. And most people don’t until they’ve reached a crisis point in their lives. But it is sort of like the meta skill for everything that we’re talking about. Why do you think that so many people are so unaware?
Hmm. Kneejerk reaction would [00:44:00] be to say the pace of society, technology, um, but this is not a new issue. ? Yeah. , part of it has to do with attention, right? And getting control of attention. One of the great refuges for me and my fairly unhappy childhood, Uh, personally my parents loving indecent people, not their fault, complex reasons.
I was quite unhappy as a kid and one of the refuges for me was science fiction. Hmm. And also being out in the woods near my home in Southern California. And in both those settings, whether it was in my imagination or the characters identified with and saving the space station. , right? Or going out in the woods and being able to camp a little bit or make a campfire safely in that was a valuing of, of agency, of autonomy rather than being a nail, being more like a [00:45:00] hammer, not violently, but constructively going through life and that aspect of orienting to your life at cause.
Rather than at a fact is absolutely fundamental to mental health, coping success, lifetime earnings, relationship satisfaction, physical health lifespan, et cetera, et cetera. It says fundamental attitude of taking responsibility for your own life. What follows from that may be the ultimate pilot light, right?
That your life matters. And you’re gonna bring your heart to it and you’re gonna make effort immediately. Then it follows you. You, you need to know where you are, what’s going on. Awareness. In other words, I was just, in other words, I’m kind of responding to the topic of awareness and reflecting on, but underlies being motivated to develop greater and greater awareness.
And I think when people are not, [00:46:00] They’re kind of helpless and they’re vulnerable to being buffeted by all kinds of things. The sneaker waves of life that they just didn’t see coming, but they could have, or the accident, you know, a hundred feet down the road because they’re only looking 10 feet down the road in front of themselves.
It’s really vulnerable, really, really vulnerable. And so, gosh, if there. I was just thinking recently about how do you, I wonder how do you look back on your life and, and judge it and what are like major values? You know, these people reflect on their life or, or they can take refuge in and feel good enough today.
And three, stand out for me lately, I’ve been reflecting on them. One is, did you bring a good heart? Were you basically decent and kind? Being helpful, where we a mean and cool callous, and we can be mean and cruel and callous quite easily. But instead, did you bring your whole heart? Were [00:47:00]you goodhearted about it?
All right, good, good on you. Second, did you make effort? There’s no replacement for effort. I’m a longtime therapist. I’ve gotten nicer, but I’ve gotten tougher. There’s no replacement for effort, right? Making say, you know, reasonable effort, which means that at a certain point in the day you clock. . And then did you learn along the way?
Was there learning? A lot of people don’t have a learning curve, and in my own work related to positive neuroplasticity, I’m really interested in how people can convert states to traits and grow the the good inside that lasts. And there’s a whole shtick about that maybe for another time. Yeah, right there.
Like when I look back and I have my self-doubts and self-criticism, Things I have remorse about and I’ve completed 70 laps around the sun. Pretty wild. What a long stream trip it’s been. Yeah, and it gives me comfort to look back and go without arrogance really. It’s kind of brings you almost to a sense of modesty, [00:48:00] humility, to look back at your life and go, you know, did I bring a good heart on the hole with some lapses, but on the hole did I make effort?
Sincere efforts on the whole. And did I grow, did I learn, did I correct? Did I implement correction as I understood it along the way? You know? And then if you can answer yes to those three, that’s a pretty, you know, the Good Life project, right? That is a good life project. You just kind of stole my thunder from my regular Final question for every guest
well, counselor, you still have a closing argument to make , I’m thinking about how many of the kind of members of the jury, so many of the, my wife and I enjoy watching b plus tv. That’s what we call it, , B plus tv, about an hour and a half a night. And, uh, we’ll watch a couple shows and I think they’re mainly.
Lawyers, either lawyers or doctors . Yeah. Can’t get away. Can’t get away from us. Old, old [00:49:00]recovered or current or whoever it may be. Yeah. Um, the notion of as we start to come full circle and, you know, we’ve, we’ve talked about broad, large scale, compassion, really understanding and allowing space for the suffering of others as almost a source fuel for us actually taking action and.
I feel compelled to do something about this. And then we kind of narrowed the lens a bit to we’re in relation with people just in our own world and starting with us. Like how do we actually, we need to know ourselves. And then some of the major touchpoints that come up with other people, as I mentioned earlier, um, for those listening, like we’ve just dipped into a handful of ideas, but, um, Rick Lay is out 50 or so all different things and to, to really, it’s an enjoyable, almost a really valuable read to dive into these different ideas.
Thank you. . And you also have a whole thing about building cases in there. By the way, everything keeps circling back to this lawyer . We tend to feel slighted then drop the case is what it’s called. Drop the case cuz I am, yeah. Watch out for the case. You build [00:50:00] against some shit, right? We’re like secretly gathering evidence in our mind for like the big thing.
Um, You know, really, I think you brought this home so beautifully, which is really like, if we really come back to, um, becoming self-aware on our own level and really starting with just like, what do I genuinely believe in mm-hmm. , like what are the values I hold dear? And, um, am I showing up as often as I can?
Yeah. And living by them. And I think that makes a huge difference. So as we come full circle in this container of Good Life project, and like I said, you kind of answered this already, so, but I’ll see if anything else comes up. If I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up? It’s a group of three that overlaps when I said, um, you know, I had a period in my life in my mid twenties when I actually thought about killing myself and I wasn’t too miserable, but I was asking myself, what’s the point?
Why keep. What’s the why? That’s how I relate to your question. What’s the why? And I realize that generally almost every why [00:51:00] boils down into one of these three categories. First, quality of life. Good life consists of a combination of hedonic and you demonic wellbeing. Both the hedonic wellbeing, which I’m experiencing a lot of right now, Jonathan, with you.
The fun, the ideas, the camaraderie, the humor feels good. You know, drinking my cup of coffee, looking out the window and seeing a sunset, hedonic, wellbeing, and then you demonic wellbeing, a sense of meaning and purpose, you know, which also is present here for me, that it can feel like, you know, there, there’s something fulfilling in doing this.
My, my capabilities are being used to some extent. Quality of life values, which include lovingness and caringness and all that. The second major why is around service. So independent of quality of life, people wanna serve, they want to help, even if it’s painful, even if it puts them at risk, like working in a war zone for the sake of [00:52:00] others.
They wanna serve, they want to co. Independent of any personal payoff in terms of their quality of life broadly. And then the third major category of why has to do with learning, including the ultimate forms of learning that have to do with awakening. Whether one does that in a religious context or not, you know, the, the complete liberation of the mind and the heart and arresting fundamentally in, um, the ultimate ground of being what?
that is, and so for me, the good life is one that is rich and full in all three of those area. Mm, thank you. Hey, before you leave, if you love this episode, safe Bet. You’ll also love the conversation that we had with Tara Brock about the practice of compassion and acceptance. You’ll find a link to Tara’s episode in the show notes, and of course, if you haven’t already done so, please go ahead and [00:53:00] f.
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