January Jumpstart | On Exquisite Attention

This January Jumpstart episode explores the power of exquisite attention – the ability to direct your focus with intention to create moments of profound presence. Renowned mindfulness teacher Tara Brach shares practices like RAIN to help awaken us from anxious, judgmental trances. Leading researcher Dacher Keltner illuminates how awe opens our eyes to everyday wonder and possibility.

Learn simple tools to train moment-to-moment awareness and presence. Discover how slowing down, looking closer, and tuning in fully can uncover magic, amplify creativity, deepen connections, and transform your life. This episode will open your eyes to the blessings that surround you every day through the lens of exquisite attention.

Episode Transcript

You can find Dacher at: Website | LinkedIn| Listen to Our Full-Length Convo with Dacher

You can find Tara Brach at: Website | Instagram | Tara Brach podcastListen to Our Full-Length Convo with Tara

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Episode Transcript:

Dacher Keltner: [00:00:00] Brief doses of or getting outdoors, dancing, listening to music, having a great conversation. It boosts well-being. We know it increases your feeling good about life. Brief moments of awe help you handle daily stresses, better brief moments of or even when you’re by yourself in nature or music. Make you feel connected and decrease loneliness. Brief moments of awe make you more creative, and they make you feel like the people around you, even ideological adversaries. You kind of share stuff, right? You’re you’re part of a community. So when you put that together, it just tells us, like, if we’re really thinking about the utility of awe, it’s good news for human beings.


Jonathan Fields: [00:00:40] So have you ever felt like you’re just kind of moving through life in a trance, like your body is there, but your mind is just off somewhere else, disconnected to the moment, to the person or people around you, to your environment. And even when you are there, you feel pulled in a million different directions, your attention being almost violently torn between tasks, projects and demands. Struggling to focus. We get caught in trances of distraction and busyness, pulled away from the beauty and magic that surrounds us every day, often all day. And that’s just what’s happening on the outside, on the inside and near maniacal slipstream of chatter, self-talk, overthinking, anxiety over planning, fear and lament keeps us spinning in the caverns of our mind, closed off from the world and people around us. From actually being present in what’s happening right before us, let alone seeing the blessing of it and deriving genuine joy from it. I have come to believe in a simple idea attention is life. Where your attention goes, so goes your mind, your heart, your behavior, and your life that can lead to incredible moments of deep and profound presence, awareness, connection, elation, awe, and joy. When you understand how to tap into and direct your attention in an intentional way. But, and sadly, this has become the chronic state for most people. It can also lead you to feel fractured, disconnected, flatlined, and disengaged even when it seems there are amazing things happening all around you when you don’t have the capacity and the skills needed to direct your attention in ways that wake your life up, that plug you into the ever-present possibilities, the juicy essence of it, rather than just closing it all down.


Jonathan Fields: [00:02:31] So how do you do this? How can we cultivate the ability to literally harness that inner spotlight and cast a spell of attention that is so immersive, so intentional, so focused and generous, so utterly exquisite? Then hold it where we want it long enough that it literally transforms not only our moments and interactions, but the entirety of our lives. That is where we’re headed today. Diving into our third installment of our January Jumpstart series, where we’re exploring the phenomenon of what I call exquisite attention and how cultivating it changes everything and lays the foundation to a truly exquisite life. I’ll be sharing some ideas and insights from my own deep dive into this area researching, developing tools, processes, strategies, and applying them in all parts of life, including the conversations that we’ve hosted right here on Good Life Project. for over a decade. And along with me, we’ll also be hearing from two luminaries in the field. Leading mindfulness teacher Tara Brock helps show us how to wake up out of trance and guides us to presence. Beyond limiting thought patterns, acclaimed researcher Dacher Keltner reveals how to tap the power of exquisite attention to create the experience of awe that brings more beauty, grace and joy into our lives.


Jonathan Fields: [00:03:52] So join me as we delve into timeless practices and cutting edge findings on exquisite attention, trance mindfulness and are discovering how slowing down, looking closer, tuning in fully can dramatically deepen relationships, amplify creativity, seed gratitude, and purpose. By mindfully engaging our senses, we notice peace, connection, and that sense of aliveness which we could all use a whole lot more of these days. And one last reminder before we dive in. If you haven’t already, be sure to follow Good Life Project. in your favorite listening app. Take just a few seconds and do it right now so you don’t miss any of the powerful January Jumpstart episodes, or any of the amazing conversations we’re hosting around them. And if you’ve missed the first two on passion, purpose and Meaning, you’ll definitely want to tee those up to listen to right after this one. So excited to share this third installment of the Good Life Project. in January Jumpstart series with you today! I’m Jonathan Fields and this is Good Life Project.


Jonathan Fields: [00:04:57] So I first heard the phrase exquisite attention many years ago in a conversation with someone who’d spent a year traveling alone and having conversations with strangers wherever he landed. They’d open up to him nearly instantly and in ways that were not only profoundly disarming, but also deeply generous and connecting. And he asked, well, how? How did this happen? And the phrase exquisite attention just kind of tumbled out of his mouth mid-sentence, along with so many other takes on what was going on in the easiest of ways without a thought. But for me, in that moment, something was unlocked. I was struck, nearly fell out of my seat. I had been trying to put language to the experience of harnessing your attention in a way that snapped you out of distraction, fragmentation, and trance for years, a quality of attention that dropped you into a near otherworldly zone of attentiveness that was tantamount to casting a spell, one where everyone caught up and it felt the world outside drop away, felt safe and seen, like, fully seen, felt awake and held, and allowed themselves to be fully present, open and engaged in a way that rarely, if ever, happens in this modern day frantic and frazzled, disconnected world. Exquisite attention. This was the phrase I’d come to understand that described elements of my own attentional training and interactive practices, both personal and professional, for decades. It was the secret sauce that let me see past the veil of busyness to more clearly know who and what stood immediately before me to create with intention and repeatedly, a container for interaction that felt so immersive, so generous and generative that I and anyone else caught up in it just completely lost track of time, of distraction, of basically anything other than that experience, and then left it in some way more connected, more alive, more engaged than before.


Jonathan Fields: [00:07:01] These are the moments and experiences, the types of interactions, be them with another person, a gathering, a group, or an entire theater or lecture hall event or community that just transform not just the moment, but when you keep stringing them together more and more. Eventually the enduring fabric of their lives. Relationships deepen. Our connection to work, to the world, to the simplest of moments, transcends the seemingly mundane limitations of circumstance, and endows nearly any and everything with the potential the possibility of grace, of elation, of revelation, and the feeling of being connected to those around us, to the world, and to a sense of source like nothing else. To be not just wrapped in this experience of exquisite attention, but also to be able to understand its dynamics, its components, and then create it. To cast that spell largely on demand and invite others into it has become a bit of a consuming quest for me for many, many years now. You know, in the beginning I’d noticed it happening spontaneously, often after the fact, back in the early 2000, teaching yoga. There’d be a moment during class where it felt almost like I’d stepped through a gateway. The world outside, not just the shallow, but the intimate confines of the practice room, ceased to exist. It was just me and 40-some-odd humans moving, breathing, dropping in together.


Jonathan Fields: [00:08:28] 90 minutes later, we leave the room and people would pass by asking what just happened in there? And I felt it too. But I didn’t understand what it was or how to deconstruct or replicate it. Years later in the podcast studio we built in New York City, when for many years, every conversation happened in person in the safety of that intentionally womb like space. We’d wrap the convo, crack the sound-treated door open, step back out into the quote real world, and they’d ask the very same thing. What just happened in there? Church therapy. Confession. I’d. Here is what it felt like. Are you psychic? I was once asked by a guest who appeared on so many magazine covers and massive stages over 30 years, and been interviewed thousands of times. I knew it wasn’t the questions themselves that were creating the experience, it was something else. Exquisite attention. The studio door would close, the spell would descend, and nothing would be the same. Years later, wrapping a keynote in a theater before 1500 people. An audience member lingered until the post-talk line dwindled away, then eased her way forward to ask me what just happened here. And I realize then this same container, this experience could be created at scale. Now, it didn’t happen every time, of course, which like back in the yoga days, began to become an increasing frustration for me. So I began to study the elements, the components, the ingredients in the exquisite attentions do more intentionally.


Jonathan Fields: [00:10:06] And over a period of years, the core elements emerged and along with them, a way to not only craft this experience in moments of professional engagement, but in many different ways with people and environments in so many parts of my life. Personal relationships, business calls Keynoting consulting with groups and teams. When I was able to create the conditions for exquisite attention, everything would change. So in a bit, I’m going to turn things over to Tara and Dacher to explore their takes on elements of these types of experiences, but I wanted to spend just a few more moments with you before then to share the elements of this ever-deepening exploration of exquisite attention that I’ve been able to tease out. And it comes down to three critical pieces one practice, five lenses, and three skills. So the one practice. Train your meta attention. So we have to have a high level of what we call meta attention, the ability to recognize where our attention is at any given time, and then direct it with intention to where we want it to be. There are many different ways that you can start to cultivate this skill of meta-attention. For me, I came to it actually rather unwillingly, after living with something called tinnitus or tinnitus, and turning to a mindfulness practice, which slowly helped me develop this skill that began as a way to relieve intense and immediate suffering and slowly began to normalize my life, and now has become one of the enduring and uplifting features that I get to lean on.


Jonathan Fields: [00:11:58] You cannot harness your attention until you cultivate the ability to know where it is at any given moment in time. So meditation is one technique. Mindfulness is the type of meditation that has become my primary practice, and this is for well over a dozen years now. It’s really a blend of open presence and focus awareness. Two other modes that I know have been really effective for colleagues and friends are neuro or biofeedback. And then a really fun and simple way that’s super practical that anyone can access is to do what I call awareness triggers to start to train daily. Super simple exercise here. Take out your mobile device. Everybody has some sort of timer or alarm feature on it, and set silent vibration alerts once an hour or at random times throughout the days so that it goes off. And when you feel that alert in your pocket during that moment, you take five seconds. You stop. You notice what’s happening around you, you notice what’s happening inside of you, and you notice what’s happening between you and anyone you’re engaging with. And then you just go back to it. And over time, this fun activity starts to literally train your meta attention. So that’s the first practice.


Jonathan Fields: [00:13:18] And this is not an intervention. It’s not something that you cultivate overnight. It takes a long time, which is why today is a great time to begin. How do we build on that one practice? This is where we get to the five lenses that I talked about. And these help create the container within which you can cast that spell of exquisite attention. The vibe within this container is critical in your ability to do this successfully and repeatedly, and not just make it a random thing that somehow magically drops down, and you can never figure out how to recreate it again. And I’ll give you a shorthand here. There’s an acronym Coupons. C-O-U-P-O-N-S that shorthands the elements. The C stands for. Curious. When you step into this container, we’ve got to be genuinely curious, genuinely interested. We can’t just phone that in which, in this day and age, we are so used to being in a semi distracted, phoned in state to saying yes to things that genuinely don’t speak to us or call us or make us say, I really want to know more, that we’ve forgotten the power of genuine curiosity. So if you are not genuinely curious about this interaction, this experience, it will be very, very difficult to create the container for exquisite attention. So either enter something where you are genuinely curious, innately curious, and if you are not, and it matters to you to create this container, find a way to get interested in some aspect of the interaction, the person, the experience to make yourself more curious.


Jonathan Fields: [00:15:03] That’s the C, the O is open. We often go into an interaction or experience with an agenda, with a checklist, with an outline, sort of saying, first we’ll do this and then this and this and this and this and this, right with this script. That is not where the magic happens. We’ve got to be open to let it go where it needs to go. This means getting comfortable with stepping into the unknown with uncertainty. But that is where the magic happens. So letting whatever the experience is go where it intrinsically wants to go, where it yearns to go. That is where the power is. No scripts, no questions. Prepare all you want. But when you step into the moment or interaction, be present in it. Present enough to let go of the need to control it and allow it to take you where it yearns to go. That brings us to the U in our acronym unconditional, and we’re talking here about the worthiness of the attention that you are casting or directing or harnessing in the direction of this person, this interaction, this moment, this experience. We need to assume that it is all worthy of our attention, and that we aren’t sort of waiting for this litmus test of when the person, the interaction, the moment, is going to, quote, earn it from us.


Jonathan Fields: [00:16:36] Step into it. Assuming that this moment is worthy of your attention, there is nothing that has to happen for it to be earned. And if you can’t get to that place beforehand, don’t step into it, because this is a really important precondition. That brings us to the P in our acronym and that shorthand for positive. So we want to step into this in an upbeat and a positive generative way. Now that doesn’t mean sort of this pollyannaistic like assume everything’s going to like I’m going to fabricate it and make it up, even though I’m really feeling negative and, you know, like cynical about this or skeptical about it, find a way to step into this and say, I hold this interaction, this space, this moment and experience. I hold and I see within it the potential for amazing things to happen. And when you create that possibility and even expectation, that is when amazing things can in fact happen. If you enter it without even opening that door to a positive experience, you almost guarantee that it cannot happen and the container for exquisite attention will never get properly created. And that leads us to N. And this is non-distracted. Right? So this may be the hardest one for so many of us these days because we’ve got so many devices, so many distractions, so many things all around us, beeping and bopping and vibrating and sort of like calling to our attention that it can be brutally hard to enter any moment or interaction in a way where we are truly non-distracted.


Jonathan Fields: [00:18:20] So do the work to set up whatever the conditions are that are necessary for you. If it means just turning off your notifications, do that. If it means silencing your devices, do that. If it means finding an app you can download that actually goes on your technology, and make sure that during the window of this experience, you cannot be distracted by this technology. Do that. I have used all of these things because my own willpower very often is not enough. So I subvert the very technology that distracts me to use applications and elements of it to make it impossible for it to distract me. This includes, by the way, even when we have transitioned to doing most of our podcast conversations remotely, I make sure that even my screen and my desk area are set up in a way where the only thing that I’m focusing on is that conversation and nothing else. Every other window, every other device, every other notification is turned off. And again, because I know that as human being, if I don’t automate this, then I won’t have the willpower to just ignore whatever pops up. So I change my environment to support my desire to be fully present and non-distracted and create the container for that exquisite attention.


Jonathan Fields: [00:19:44] And that brings us to the final S. So remember I said it was coupons. The last is S. The S stands for safety and what we know. And this actually we spent an entire recent episode here on Good Life Project. talking to Stephen Porges, who has done incredible work and research on the Polyvagal theory is that without safety, without the feeling of psychological safety, nothing magical can happen. We stay in a fight or flight and it agitated in a high alert state, and it pretty much closes the door for openness, for connection, for vulnerability, for truth, for revelation. So we want to actually create a context where people feel genuinely at peace, seen and safe. So those are the lenses that sort of make up this particular container. And that brings us to the final part here, the three super skills. And this is all about active inquiry and observation. One, we want to focus on both verbal and nonverbal communication. So what is being communicated to us, not just with the words that somebody we’re engaging with or saying, but with their body language, with context. We want to think about both text but also subtext. Subtext is where the vast majority of genuine, true and meaningful communication happens. So that’s the first of the super skills in the communication side. The second is what I call three-level sight. And this is about understanding what is happening ambiently around me.


Jonathan Fields: [00:21:23] So I take my attention and say, what am I noticing around me? What are the contributors to the conversation? What insights and information? What inputs and stimuli am I picking up just around me in the environment? The second part is inner awareness or attentiveness. What’s happening within me? What is my body feeling? What are my emotions telling me? What is the chatter in my head? I want to be aware of that because that will actually break the spell. And then the third piece is inter-awareness or attention. What is happening between me and other beings within this container. And that brings us to the final of the three super skills sensory input. We want to be aware of what’s happening on a sensory level, and that includes what am I seeing? What am I hearing? What am I smelling? What am I feeling? What is that subtextual? What is the vibe happening in and around us? Those are the key pieces of the puzzle. And of course we can go into each one of these in extensively more detail. And maybe down the road we’ll actually dedicate a whole conversation or episode around this, but I wanted to lay out this framework for you before turning it over to our amazing guests here today. So I know that was a lot, and I hope it gives you a solid foundation for this experience of exquisite attention. And now I want to turn things over to my two guest luminaries. We’ll share their takes on how to become more present, aware, mindful, and open to the grace and awe of the experiences around us by directing our attention in very specific ways.


Jonathan Fields: [00:23:05] Our first guest today is Tara Brock, a renowned teacher blending Western psychology and Eastern spiritual practices into a unique approach to healing and awakening, and with a calm, compassionate sense of wisdom cultivated over decades. As a meditation teacher, psychotherapist, and founder of the Insight Meditation community of Washington, D.C., Tara guides us in waking up from the trance of anxiety, judgment, and disconnection through practices like mindful breathing, self-compassion, and tools such as her acronym RAIN. Tara illuminates a path to greater freedom and aliveness. So join us as we explore time-tested practices for gathering scattered senses, awakening from trance-like states, and directing attention with discernment on the journey to liberation. Here’s Tara. So I heard Lama Rod and in conversation with Dan Harris, and he mentioned this interesting question to lead with. And that was how is your heart? And not long ago, I heard you in conversation with your friend Dan Gottlieb, which was this beautiful conversation, and we’ll touch on that a bit. And you led into that conversation with that very same question. So I thought maybe it would be an interesting way for us to lead into our conversation by simply inviting you to share how your heart is right now.


Tara Brach: [00:24:26] Jonathan, I’m glad you’re opening that way. I first heard it when you heard it, that opening with Lama Rod, and I started with him that way. And there’s nothing better than a check in to the heart. So right now I’m just feeling a kind of gladness. Um, and just a gratitude. I often think of Rumi saying, do you make regular visits to yourself? And it just always feels like such a gift when you know there’s that invitation to say, okay, what’s right here in this heart right now? So in this moment, a gladness to be talking to you. Um, I’m feeling a lot of, uh, I have a lot of blessings in my life. And the contrast of that and and the degree of, uh, suffering and pandemonium in our world is just so big that that’s the ever-present backdrop. So there’s kind of the mix of sorrow and worry and concern and also a feeling of gratitude, uh, both for. For what? For my personal blessings, but also a sense of hopefulness, actually, right now.


Jonathan Fields: [00:25:41] Um, yeah, it’s interesting to sort of have that balance of, um, acknowledging the. Yeah, you could fairly call it mayhem that tends to be swirling around so many of us right now, um, at the same time, touching down into this place of gratitude, you know, you’ve, you’ve shared, um, in different ways how we tend to the minute we experience something in our circumstance that we don’t want to be our circumstance. Um, we’re very practiced in the art of pushing it away. You often use this, this word trance in various different contexts earlier. You use it in the context of unworthiness. But but it’s also more of like this generalized state. Tell me more about what are we talking about when we’re talking about trance?


Tara Brach: [00:26:27] Yeah. Um, trance, like a dream is a kind of distorted or fragmented miniature reality that we’re living in, that we’re believing in those moments. And it’s like waking up from a dream. When you wake up from the trance, you realize that there’s a bigger world here and there’s more. It’s like, I sometimes think of it like being in an airplane and you go into, you fly into a cloud and your whole world becomes cloud. But then when you get past the cloud, the cloud is still there, but your world is bigger. So, um, whether you use that metaphor or ocean and waves, um, coming out of a trance is realizing a whole that you really are, and then it makes it possible to include the parts, the different changing waves with a sense of compassion and appreciation versus constantly being in contraction against what’s here.


Jonathan Fields: [00:27:24] Um, yeah. I feel like so many of us live, um, I would probably sadly argue, um, the better part of our lives in that state wanting something else to be, um, our day to day reality.


Tara Brach: [00:27:36] That’s that’s exactly right. That I sometimes think of wanting the next moment to contain what this moment does, not where we’re leaning, we’re kind of tumbling into the what’s next and are also very obviously pushing away or contracting against the what’s here. But either way, we’re contracted and we’re forgetting the larger sense of who we are.


Jonathan Fields: [00:27:59] Um, yeah. You’ve also, um, there’s this interesting sort of, uh, breakdown. That I’ve heard you offer, the flags of trance.


Tara Brach: [00:28:08] Yeah, yeah, in a way. We know the flags. You know, once we start becoming familiar, like, for instance, any time we really speed up a lot, um, we’re usually racing to the next thing and are racing away from something. Ah, when we realize we’ve been obsessively thinking, you know, we pull away from the living reality and go into our minds. So obsessive thinking is a flag of trance, and then judgment’s a big one. I think judgment’s the most pervasive that causes suffering, where we judge ourselves or judge others, and it’s a way to try to control things or feel better about ourselves. But we’re living in a very, you know, small and often conflictual world. So those are those are some of the big ones that I see. And really I think of meditation and mindfulness as, as ways of recognizing and waking up out of trance. And, um, one of the most personally alive examples for me. I often break down, uh, mindfulness meditation, mindfulness and compassion meditation into an acronym. It’s the RAIN acronym, which is Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture. Because in those moments we come back to a larger presence. We wake up out of trance. And my mother moved down, uh, here where I live in Virginia, when she was about 82. And, um, during that time, my biggest challenge was that I was super busy. And so my trance state was feeling guilty that I was letting her down and anxious that I wasn’t getting stuff done. And that would be very contracting. So at one point, I remember working on a talk on loving kindness, and my mother walked into my office to give me an article, uh, from The New Yorker.


Tara Brach: [00:30:11] And I barely looked away from my screen. And so she just very graciously put it down and started retreating. But when I turned to look at her, I had this just pang, Jonathan. Like it was like, I don’t know how many years I’ll have with her. And so that’s when I decided, oh, this trance I’m is really it’s going to I’m going to regret this. And I practice rain then. And so I recognized, okay, um, feeling anxious about getting things done, I allowed the feeling to be there. Because with mindfulness, you really need to let what’s here be here. You know, I almost will say this belongs. It’s a wave in the ocean, you know? And then when I investigated, I could feel an investigation, by the way, is really somatic. It’s not a mental kind of, uh, conceptual thing. It’s. Can you investigate and really get intimate with it in your body? You know, so I could feel the clutch in my body, and I could sense the belief swirling that if I didn’t get things done, I’d fail and be rejected by the world. You know, that kind of a sequence. So I investigated and felt the clutch and then the nurturing was really, you know, I often put my hand on my heart with nurturing, with the N or RAIN, because there’s a lot of science now that shows that that actually begins to soften our hearts. And I just sent a message, you know that. I love her and the teachings will flow through me. I didn’t have to be so anxious about preparing, and I just sent care inwardly.


Tara Brach: [00:31:47] And I could feel this opening from trance where the world and what I was got bigger. I was not this anxious, frenzied person that felt guilty, but was just, you know, just speeding along. I was resting again and I just much more tender, open-hearted space. And I did that a lot. I practiced that rain practice a lot when my mother was around, and I started finding that I could really relax and just be with her, rather than planning when I was going to get back to work. And, you know, we’d have our big salads together for dinner, and I wouldn’t be anxiously trying to figure out how much I get done after dinner. Or I take her to a doctor’s appointment and just be with her. And we’d go on our long walks in the river without. It could be slow and long and okay. And she died about now, three years later. And of course, you know, deep, deep grief because I adored my mom. And we were really close, but really not regret because I felt like, you know, a lot of people tell me that rain saves their life. And I felt like rain had saved my life moments with my mom, because it spared me being on automatic in reaction and going, you know, through my days with her in trance. So I’m just sharing that with you because it feels to me like so relevant to our lives that we notice where we get small and just bring these practices of, of presence to that, to free ourselves.


Jonathan Fields: [00:33:27] That’s that’s so great. And, you know, as you’re sharing that, you know, one of the things that occurs to me also is that there’s the rain process, you know, the recognize, allow, investigate and nurture, but it feels like there is also a precursor to that which is cultivating the awareness to be able to know when we are getting small, when we are dropping into trance so that we know, oh, now it’s time to actually step into this, to access these tools.


Tara Brach: [00:33:59] I’m really glad you’re naming that, because that’s probably the biggest question people say to me, okay, but I forget to even do rain. And that’s where the flags come in that we start looking at our lives and sensing, you know, where is there suffering, you know, where do I feel like I’m I’m hooked in some way? Where do I feel like there’s something between me and feeling closer to this particular person? Where am I at war with myself? And then often it helps, right at the beginning of the day, to spend some quiet time and just have the intention to be awake. Because if we start the day with that intention to notice those things, it’s almost like the field of gravity. We get more, our attention gets more alert, and then the biggest challenge of all is being willing to pause. You know, I call it the sacred art of pausing because we it’s like being on a bicycle. And the more anxious we get, the faster we pedal, and we’re pedaling away from presence. And to be able to actually stop the bike, get off and actually say, okay, let’s have the courage to be with what’s right here. That’s really the compelling piece.


Jonathan Fields: [00:35:13] Yeah. No, that makes a lot of sense to me. I mean, I found that that’s the ability to sort of like zoom the lens out a bit and get meta and recognize when I’m stepping into that, you know, into trance, into however we may describe it personally, that’s actually, I think come for me largely through just I’ve had a daily practice for about a decade, just a very simple, you know, mindfulness and pranayama practice every morning. And people ask, well, how does it make you feel? You know, and I’m like, on a daily basis, I have no idea. You know, my I’m out of, you know, 25 minutes of sitting time. I feel like maybe I get two minutes of actual, you know, like still time on a good day. But what I have noticed is over, over a period of months and then years, it changes the way you move through the day so that you’re both less responsive, but also so that you can you start to see more clearly. I feel like so that when you see, you know, if I’m if I’m being an idiot one day. I’m aware of the fact that there’s no reason that in this moment in time, I’m being an idiot, other than the fact that I probably slept badly and rather than just spinning and being aggressive, I’ll just kind of pull back and give myself a break and maybe just stop working and go for a walk or something like that, because I know that I need it, and I know that I’m not being in the world the way that I want to be. And I didn’t notice that it took a long time until I noticed that something had shifted in my ability to sort of perceive, like, almost look down on myself from from outside of my body and be like, oh, this is what’s really happening.


Tara Brach: [00:36:55] That’s a beautiful way to describe the gift of it, though. I’m really taking that in. Jonathan, that in a way, when you think of what we’re doing, when we’re meditating, we’re just practicing coming back again and again right here. And it sort of trains us when we’re in the day to come back. And that’s the gift, is that we’re just not gone as long, you know, there’s less of a gap. I find for myself. I still get reactive, but there’s less of a gap now between, you know, noticing that and then pausing and in some way inviting myself back. The other thing I notice is I don’t believe my thoughts. And to me. Wow. You know, and I’ve noticed when people leave a week-long retreat, let’s say that’s the takeaway. You don’t have to believe your thoughts. And our thoughts keep us in a very small world, because we know with the negativity bias that a lot of them are fear-driven, and so they keep our body anxious, and they keep us in a smaller sense of who we are than the truth. So being able to see that my mind has been telling me that I screwed up in something and I wasn’t very sensitive to somebody, and I kind of let people down. And I was modeling and I should, you know, allow a lot of people are going to just anyway, once I see that circling and I can say, wait a minute, you just don’t have to believe your thoughts and then come back into my body and come back to my breath. And then I can look at the situation with fresh eyes and say, okay, what lessons can I learn? But I’m not caught in this very tight place of feeling failure and fear.


Jonathan Fields: [00:38:38] Yeah, that capacity, I think, is really even before you get to the, you know, the process, the writing process that that sort of precursor capacity I think is transformative as well and feels like a good place for us to come full circle in our conversation. So hanging out in this container of the Good Life project, if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?


Tara Brach: [00:39:03] The words that come to mind are serving, savoring, and where they come from, which is a loving presence to really have life arise out of a loving presence.


Jonathan Fields: [00:39:19] Thank you. So I love how Tara’s wisdom and compassion shine through everything she shares by guiding us to focus attention with radical self-acceptance and care. She illuminates the peace that comes from true presence, and our final guest in this episode is acclaimed psychologist and researcher Dacher Keltner, who’s really leading new research on the power of awe to transform our attention in his fascinating book, or, The Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life. He reveals how all sharpens our focus to appreciate morality, creativity, nature and life’s mysteries. As the founder of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, Docker’s groundbreaking findings truly illuminate how awe awakens us from trance-like patterns to perceive our world and possibilities anew. So here’s Docker sharing an intriguing look at how refining attention to awe can infuse the ordinary with magic and meaning. Here’s Dacher. The topic of awe has been something that I have been deeply fascinated by for many years now. Both the experience of it, the the research around it, the way it affects our lives, our access to it. So I’m really excited to explore one of the things that you talk about, you actually, these are your words for hundreds of years or has been a central character in spiritual journaling, in which people write to this day about their encounters with the divine. And yet at the same time, or is this life-changing, sometimes transcendent emotion? Yet until relatively recently, among the scope of emotions that were recognized, validated, and in any way meaningfully studied by the scientific community, it didn’t exist. Take me deeper into this because it sounds bizarre to me.


Dacher Keltner: [00:41:10] Yeah. It’s preposterous. You know, the field of emotion which I work in which many of our audience probably know really anchored to fight or flight kind of negative emotions for 25 years, mainly what we studied was, you know, anger, fear, disgust. And then we started to think about the positive emotions that are around 2000, like love and laughter and joy, and no one would touch or, you know, we wrote a theoretical paper, Jonathan Hyde and I, in 2003. I think it wasn’t forthcoming. And I think there are a few different reasons. I think I think most realistically, scientists felt like you couldn’t measure it or find it in the lab, you know? But in point of fact, you can, you know, and we can talk about that. I think there was this sense that it is inherently a spiritual emotion, you know, as suggested by your introduction, but in fact, it’s associated with a lot of human activity. And then, frankly, I think it was just like the last thing you wanted to be is a young scientist who’s like, I’m studying. Ah. And people were embarrassed about it. And, you know, thankfully, I’m in Berkeley and had the tools of science to dig into it. But yeah, it’s stunning. In particular when you think about like, René Descartes, Albert Einstein, Rachel Carson, so many people saying that or is just this fundamental emotion, a fundamental state of mind, and we just didn’t know much about it until ten years ago?


Jonathan Fields: [00:42:32] Yeah. One of the things that you explore in this are like the larger category of well-being also is this notion of being able to see things more holistically, like I would describe it as a capacity to be in a place of possibility, to see possibility more readily, maybe even when you’re really struggling with grief or suffering or whatever it may be. I was really interested by that being a potential experience that derives from awe.


Dacher Keltner: [00:42:55] Mmmm. What a terrific observation. Yeah. You know, when Einstein says like this emotion is the cradle or origin of science and art or all activities of the human imagination, what a psychologist would translate that as, or once you get more specific, is what you just said very nicely, Jonathan, is that or transports you to the realm of possibility. Right. Because what you’re seeing doesn’t fit your assumptions about reality and what that means. And this is really understudied but profoundly important, you know, with respect to the realm of possibility, is like one of the things we know when people are moved by somebody’s generosity and they tear up and they’re like, man, that was so generous, I feel, or they feel themselves more capable of being kind. So you enter into this realm of the possible self and think, I could be a kinder human being. You know, when Darwin saw kind of all of these patterns in nature that were part of his five and a half years of voyaging on the Beagle, blown away, or everywhere in Amazonian rainforests and rivers and so forth. He’s like, what is the possible universe in the natural processes that would produce this? And he got to his theory of evolution, a whole theory of art. When we feel or in response to visual art, my colleague Eftyhia Santu is arguing, is that it unleashes our sense of what’s possible, like, oh my God, I could have a different gender, you know? Look. We’re more free than I thought, or this is what the world could be, so I. No one’s mentioned that. And I think that’s in some sense the most one of the most vital cognitive functions of awe is it frees up you to think about what’s possible. Yeah. And we need that.


Jonathan Fields: [00:44:38] Yeah. It’s interesting because what you’re describing also again, it feels like it’s a lot of like the big capital A or experiences to me. But what I’m also curious about is one of the things that so many people struggle with, just day to day is, is getting out of their the chatter like you’re in, you know, persistent spin mode. You’re in anxiety mode, maybe doesn’t rise to the level of clinical anxiety or anxiety that she stopped you from living, but so many of us don’t feel like we’re almost trapped in our heads. Yeah, yeah. You know, and there’s a spin cycle. And I guess my curiosity is when we talk about the, the reframe around, you know, like, yeah, possible adjacent experiences. If you’re somebody who moves through life with a lot of spin in your head on a persistent basis, if you have an experience that even for a short moment, allows you to step out of that, to opt out of that loop, like through the experience of or maybe it’s like literally just see something beautiful or you witness a beautiful act of kindness and then you, you notice shortly after that, but for a brief moment you weren’t in your head. The spin stop, the anxiety wasn’t there. I wonder if that then has the ability to to sort of like plant that seed of possibility. Well, maybe it’s actually possible to not always have to be there. And what would it take you like to be able to step out of that?


Dacher Keltner: [00:45:54] Yeah, we have a lot of data on this idea that awe quiets the chatter of the self. You’re not as self-critical, you’re not as anxious, you’re not as pressured by time. And I’ll return to getting veterans out on the river rafting for half a day. And they felt awe and the awe that they felt reduced. Ptsd and PTSD is an extreme version of chatter. It’s like I’m in danger. I can’t stop this thinking it’s intruding on my mind at all times. It wakes me up and awe quieted that down for a week, you know? So yeah, I, I really feel in other places I’ve been, you know, thinking about and writing about like the crisis of individualism, that too much self-focus, too much loneliness, too much self-criticism, too much shame, individualism and awe frees you of that. You know, it might just be five minutes, it might just be ten minutes. But then you have a better interaction with your roommate, or you look differently upon your work in that state. So it’s not.


Jonathan Fields: [00:46:56] Bad. Yeah. And if even you have the meta-awareness to notice that actually you’ve been freed from it for 5 or 10 minutes, if that then lets you say, oh, it actually is possible to be free from it, that realization alone has got to be just incredibly hopeful for a lot of people who thought, this is just the way it’s going to be. Yeah, that’s.


Dacher Keltner: [00:47:14] Yeah, that’s so interesting. We haven’t studied that either. But I love the idea and it’s interesting. We’re starting to look at the I’m starting to think about moral beauty. And one of the things that moral beauty like, wow, that young girl is, is courageous and you’re awestruck. And then your mind starts to sort of reconfigure its beliefs about humans, like, wow, we’re not necessarily dog-eat-dog selfish. We’re capable of a lot of kindness. So I do think there is this meta and then the meta-awareness around that, like, wow, humans can be capable, I can be capable of a lot of things. So really terrific hopeful possibility about awe.


Jonathan Fields: [00:47:53] Yeah. So what you just brought up also is another fascination, which is this notion of awe was once described to me as an experience that functionally shatters your model of some part of your world. Yeah. And leaves you, like in a moment of having to reassemble the pieces of what a new model looks like, which on the one hand sounds utterly terrifying. But on the other hand, it’s incredibly opportune, especially if the model of the world that you had been living in wasn’t one that made you feel good about living in it.


Dacher Keltner: [00:48:26] And we, in some of our work on, I’ll call it a destabilizing emotion for the very reason that you’re talking about Jonathan. Like, man, you see extraordinary kindness or you see, you know, incredible storms or, you know, large waves and you feel or you encounter an incredible idea and it really destabilizes your understanding of the world for a while and can be kind of anxiety producing. But good. Right. And I think the psychedelic literature is really interesting because what is being found in that literature probably produced by or it destabilizes or challenges your sense that you’re an addict and you can kick addiction challenges your sense, you know that you have to live forever when you have a terminal disease and reduces anxiety about it. And I think awe does very good work destabilizing beliefs that may be serving you poorly. Yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [00:49:21] What’s the how of art? You referenced a couple things that I think you know are probably accessible to a lot of people, nature being one of them. Yeah. And maybe one clarification to start out with is the notion of does it have to be like the type of nature that leaves your jaw on the floor?


Dacher Keltner: [00:49:37] Yeah. No, not at all. You know, first, you know, in response to your question, like what we found in different countries is what we call everyday awe is people can feel awe 2 to 3 times a week. Easy, right. And that means a little bit of practice. You can get it every day. And then throughout the book I start to summarize, you know, different easy ways to cultivate everyday. Or I think it really begins with what we’ve been talking about, like pause, put your technologies away, take a deep breath, open your mind, look around you, look for things you don’t know. But then, you know, practically, we’ve tested awe walks that our listeners can Google and find where you just walk regularly, but look for. Or you can share stories of or with your people at your dinner table. Amazing. Hey, what’s the last experience of awe you had? Let’s talk about it. You can listen to music that brings you or from your childhood or teen years. Very powerful. You know, there are a lot of nature focused, contemplative approaches of, you know, I encourage my Berkley students, it’s amazing. Take a break in the day and just look at the sky for a couple of minutes, right? Just watch what’s going on. And they send me pictures and kind of, whoa, I didn’t realize that this color was happening. You know, focus on trees. So there are nature-based stuff. I think that the visual realm is this rich possibility of awe that we often forget about that to get to forms of art that we’re starting to study. So I’ve learned a lot on the road talking about awe like, look into people’s eyes, you know, just think about the miracle of the hand. So there’s a lot you can do to access this surprisingly commonplace emotion that is good for you.


Jonathan Fields: [00:51:21] You describe music, nature, art, visual art, eye gazing music. When I’m fascinated by I happen to be very audio inclined and lifelong lover of music. And as you talk about music, one of my curiosity is it was have you identified or have you seen the experience of what I could only call something like reminiscent or you’re like, so I think I remember when I got Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the moon, I remember being in the basement with headphones on the first time I listened to it, and I remember the feeling of it like I went somewhere. And when I hear that again today, I go back to that place. Even though I’ve I’ve listened to that entire album on vinyl and digital times thousands and thousands of times. In the intervening time, it’s almost like I’m not experiencing awe in the moment. It’s letting me time travel to experience the awe I heard when I first felt it. Is that real, or am I kind of fabricating that?


Dacher Keltner: [00:52:16] It’s definitely real. And, you know, one of the things in the book I write about eight wonders that give rise to or nature movement with others moral beauty, visual art, music, contemplation, life and death and big ideas. And they each are different, you know, they have subtle differences in music. One of the most awe-inspiring qualities of music is, you know, and I asked this musical director of the Philadelphia Symphony, like, what’s the secret to musical art? And he said, time. Like, you’re saying that music just is plays with time in a much different way than paintings do or nature does. It just stretches it out and you transport from childhood to your death to past generations, what have you, almost like a mystical experience or like an indigenous mystical experience that people like Doctor Uriah Seligman write about? We don’t understand how you know, but it is this freeing of the self where, you know, Yumi Kendall, who’s a cellist who I interviewed in the book for the Philadelphia Symphony, world-class cellist for her music, was always transporting her in time to when her grandfather died, to this early experience in childhood, to her family, etc. and that is powerful and liberating and I’m glad you get to experience it. It’s a really central quality to musical lore.


Jonathan Fields: [00:53:35] Yeah, and such an easy one to experience. Also, you’ve used the phrase moral beauty a couple of times also. Yeah, take me deeper into this because I thought that was fascinating.


Dacher Keltner: [00:53:44] Yeah, this one surprised us. Jonathan. You know, we gathered stories of awe from 26 countries, from Mexico to Brazil to Korea, South Korea to India. And the number one source of awe, you know, I thought it was going to be religion or nature is moral beauty, and it’s other people and usually ordinary people, their sacrifices. Hey, man, I’ll give you all my money. You know, courage, like facing disease, their overcoming of obstacles, parents writing about their children born with some kind of physical ailment that they then become damaged. Answers their humility very sometimes produced on people, just profoundly humble people, and also their extraordinary talent, physical talent, like, you know, great dancers or basketball players. And I call that moral beauty. Like these sources of awe. These human actions teach us, like, what we are capable of, you know, the aesthetics, the imagination, what we’re capable of. And they’re moral. They’re about selflessness in some deep sense. And that finding changed my life, you know, it suddenly opened my eyes to like, man, when I walk through Berkeley, there is a lot of moral beauty going on that I ordinarily don’t pay attention to. You know, people giving seats on the train to the elderly woman, sharing, kids, consoling somebody else. Um, you know, that’s crying, who’s crying? I think it’s an important reminder for our times. Like we have an emotion that evolved to really make us move by other people’s potential and goodness. So it was a wonderful discovery.


Jonathan Fields: [00:55:22] Yeah, I love that. And also really it explained a lot to me about like why I feel a certain way when I witness a certain thing. And it’s almost I think part of the beauty of it also is sometimes I think we think, well, we have to be the person who’s the actor in the scene. And what this showed me was that sometimes just witnessing it is enough to take me there, and we don’t have to create anything. We just have to open our eyes to it.


Dacher Keltner: [00:55:45] Mm. What a profound lesson, you know, that we can find our morality and our moral compass and meaning by witnessing. By just observing. Yeah.


Jonathan Fields: [00:55:55] Part of what you’re talking about is, um, is also being really intentional here, you know, and just the more present you are, the more you probably just start to realize, oh, this is all around me all day, every day. But it brings up one other question for me, which is, and maybe this is a completely fictional use case, let’s say somebody is like, I’m totally hip to this awe thing, and they commit and I’m going to literally go on awe walks, I’m going to I’m going to go down the eight wonders of or and I’m going to just say yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. And, and three times a day they’re like awe bomb, awe bomb, awe bomb. Is there a risk of habituation to the experience of or if it becomes such a regular part of our experience?


Dacher Keltner: [00:56:34] Yeah. You know, that was, uh, one of the vital questions that started to appear in our lab. Like, maybe you can get tired of our worn out or habituate to it. And to the best of our knowledge, I mean, obviously, you can like if I made you listen to your favorite piece of music 100 times in a row, you’d be like, come on, man. But realistically, the answer is actually the opposite, which is it grows in depth and richness. We have various studies that speak to that, but our best is the awe walk study, where we had people who are 75 years old or older do an awe walk once a week for eight weeks. They knew they were doing it. They practiced it. They had instructions, they were fully aware. But they’re awe rose over the course of the study. Right? They didn’t get tired of it. They actually it got deeper. And it’s interesting when you find awe a real serious realm or a realm for you, does it get deeper with practice. And most of the time they say, yes. You know, I was teaching high schoolers the other day and they were like, yeah, you know, I’m learning to play the guitar. It just gets better. Or I’m learning how to taste beers and they become better with experience. And I think that’s true. I think all operates differently than the other pleasures. It’s an aesthetic emotion, so it has more freedom to move around and gain meaning. And I think it’s encouraging that that’s the case.


Jonathan Fields: [00:57:50] I hope that’s the case. And it sounds like the science is pointing so far. So direction. Yeah. Yeah, it feels like a good place for us to come full circle in our conversation as well. So in this container of Good Life Project., if I offer up the phrase to live a good life, what comes up?


Dacher Keltner: [00:58:04] Go find awe and I also the other word that really, um, kept coming to me is, is embrace mystery. Go in search of mystery. It will take you to good places.


Jonathan Fields: [00:58:15] Mm.


Dacher Keltner: [00:58:16] Thank you, thank you. Jonathan. What an amazing conversation.


Jonathan Fields: [00:58:19] I love how Dacher research just truly opens our eyes to awe as a pivotal human emotion. By illuminating how awe awakens attention, it guides us to discover magic and meaning all around. So today we have journeyed into the intersection of science and spirituality and exquisite attention. And by exploring how we can mindfully tune our senses with care and curiosity, we uncovered timeless practices for awakening from trance-like states into the beauty and mystery that surrounds us into a state of exquisite attention and all that it brings with us, and how we might cultivate the capacity to cast a spell of exquisite attention in all parts of life. And now, if our conversation SPARKED insight you’d like to integrate into your life and work, I’d love to invite you to say yes to a simple, seven-day exquisite attention challenge, as we’ll be doing all month to wrap each episode of this January Jumpstart experience. This week’s challenge is really simple, and I kind of hinted at it really early on, so we could really dive into a lot of these different practices. But I want to start super simple, and that is by helping you start to cultivate moment-to-moment awareness of what is happening around you, within you and in between you and others.


Jonathan Fields: [00:59:41] And we do this by using that kind of fun awareness triggers exercise I talked about earlier. So take out your device, whatever it is, open your alarm app. And what I want you to do take literally just the next 60s and set an alarm for you can either do it every hour for, you know, over the next 12 waking hours of the day, or just at random times during the next 12 waking hours of the day, but set eight different ones. Do this for about 60s today. Okay, so you can do it right now. Now set a vibration so it doesn’t keep alarming every time you do it. Just make it a vibe alert. So when you have it on your pocket or on your body or on your desk, it’s not going to disturb anyone else. But whatever that pattern is that you choose, you’ll know that this is your awareness trigger. And when you feel it or just hear it, then for the next five to 10s here is what you do. You pause for just a moment. You pay attention what is happening just around me generally what’s the vibe, the environment, the feeling, the sensory experience? What do you notice? What is happening inside of you? Where is your mind right now? Is it present? Is it spinning somewhere? Is it anxious? Is it wrapped up in self-chatter? You don’t have to do anything about this.


Jonathan Fields: [01:01:00] Simply noticing alone has tremendous power. And then the final piece of this. If you are engaging with another person, with another group of people, or whatever it is you’re engaging with, maybe it’s a document on your screen. Notice that particular being or document or interaction or experience. Maybe it’s a pet, maybe it’s a nature. Whatever it is, pay attention to the inter part of your awareness. So literally just 10s or so. Just pause. Notice what’s happening just around you. Notice what’s happening within you. Notice what’s happening between you and whatever you’re interacting with. You don’t have to change anything that’s even not part of it. This is purely about training your attention to just start to notice where it is momentarily as you go throughout your day and over time, when you start to actually do these alerts, it starts to just become more and more automatic a part of you, and you need those vibrations less and less, and you just start to sort of snap into attentiveness in a more regular basis. And that lays the foundation for everything we’ve been talking about here. So try it out, do it for the next seven days.


Jonathan Fields: [01:02:17] Let us know how it goes. Well, that’s a wrap for today’s January Jumpstart episode on Exquisite Attention, if you feel inclined to share, by the way, we’d love to hear from you. Just email us at [email protected] and if you haven’t already, be sure to follow us on your favorite podcast app so you don’t miss any of this month’s January Jumpstart series, or any of the wonderful conversations happening around those episodes. And if you’re inclined, share this episode with a friend who needs a little more exquisite attention in their lives and rally them to do these fun and impactful weekly challenges with you. Because it’s always so much more fun to learn and grow together. Thanks so much for joining us. Before you leave, if you love this episode Safe bet, you’ll also love the full conversations that we had with Tara and Dacher. You’ll find a link to those episodes in the show. Notes. This episode of Good Life Project. was produced by executive producers Lindsey Fox and Me. Jonathan Fields Editing help By Alejandro Ramirez. Kristoffer Carter crafted our theme music and special thanks to Shelley Adelle for her research on this episode. Until next time, I’m Jonathan Fields signing off for Good Life Project.


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