Archive for the ‘Books and Ideas’ Category

The following quote was published yesterday on Dr Rick Hanson’s Budda’s Brain page on FaceBook:

“When negative material arises, bring to mind the positive emotions and perspectives that will be it’s antidote.” -Dr. Rick Hanson

By negative material I guess are meant difficult thoughts and emotions like anger or jealousy but I could not be sure. I was somewhat surprised by the comment as I saw it as an encouragement to replace the negative states with the positive ones. But is this not like changing the black shades for the pink ones when none of them show us what reality is like?

Some people on Fb commented that the quote was too simplistic and probably taken out of the context which seemed to be the case. In the end Dr Hanson himself left a clarifying comment:

This is a very interesting thread, and really gets at the not-always-easy balance between Wise Mindfulness on the one hand, and Wise Effort on the other. Libby is right, the single sentence from my book that started this thread… needs to be understood in context.

I think there are three basic phases in personal growth, psychological healing, and spiritual practice: mindful presence with what arises, working with what arises, and replacing what arises. Or in six words: let be, let go, let in.

Often the first phase alone is enough. But sometimes it’s not, and the Buddha himself – a great proponent of the power of mindfulness! – encouraged people to be active in the mind to reduce the negative and increase the positive. The trick is to be active in these ways without falling into the pitfalls noted in several of your posts of aversion to “negative” states of mind or craving “positive ones.” That’s where insight, equanimity, and practice come in.



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When I ask someone what it is they like about their partner, often the answer tells me more about what that person receives from their partner – a feeling of being appreciated, loved, understood, safe, etc. It seems what we are looking for in relationships is to have our emotional needs satisfied. Is this not expecting too much? Is it even possible?

I am interested in how something that starts like a romantic movie on the scale of “Titanic” turns into a low-budget drama with elements of nightmare. What is it in me that triggers and steers this process from the very start? Why longing for a working relationship, I set myself up for failure and sabotaged the few ones I had? What would it take from me to live together without hurting my beloved? I have been trying to remember a single morning when I woke up and said to myself, “How can I make sure I get hurt again and while I am at it, why not help another soul feel miserable?” Not that I remember. There seems to be a glitch in the system somewhere.

So I thought I’d take a good look at the dynamics of intimate relationships and try to see where my own judgement fails me.

Why this exploration? Because

a) those same patterns show up in all our relationships although not as powerfully

b) I strive to live a conscious life in this universe not of my choosing

c) let’s just say I finally bought Elisabeth Gilbert’s “Committed” and find myself warming up to the idea of giving myself a try at relationships

“Of all the ideologies that possess the contemporary soul, perhaps none is more powerful, more seductive, and possibly more delusory than the romantic fantasy that there is someone out there who is right for us, the long-sought soul mate, what I call “the magical other” , the one who will truly understand us, take care of us, meet our needs, repair the wounds, and, with a little luck, spare us the burden of growing up and meeting our needs”.

James Hollis, “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Your Life”, p 104


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As it often happens in life, once we ask a question, answers start coming from all possible directions. My journey into the basement to meet my shadow led me to often shocking discoveries of the patterns that kept surfacing in my personal life and insights as to how they were shaping my life. Some of those discoveries could have been done much earlier with the help of a professional, I suppose. Nevertheless, here I am, years and multiple sabotaged relationships later and my research on the subject (without looking for anything in particular) led me to mooching the book by Jungian analyst James Hollis “Finding Meaning in the Second Half of Life“. This just a week or so before my birthday (interesting coincidence). I was saving the book for the week-end. Today, when iTunes started downloading the podcast updates, I opened it up to see who Tami Simon interviewed this time on “Insights at the Edge” and gasped in disbelief when I saw the title of the new episode: “James Hollis: Underneath the Midlife Crises”. Come on!  Now I had both the book and a very skillfully done interview with the author.

So what’s the deal with the so-called “midlife” crisis and how come it seems I’ve been having one for years although I don’t have any conscious fear of aging?

Hollis posits that any crisis occurs when the maps we are carrying (conscious or unconscious ones we adopted from our culture or family of origins) do not match the terrain, when there is discrepancy between “what we sought, served, and accomplished, and what we feel in our private, honest moments”. This occurs when we experience the unavoidable conflict between the natural Self and the acquired “sense of self” (he calles it “the false self”) with “the values and strategies we have derived from internalizing the dynamics and messages of our family and our culture”*.  As children, we adopt certain defense mechanisms to ensure our survival and  we carry those with us into every decision we make as adults. Those unconscious mechanisms often guide our choices in directions quite different from those our soul desires. Most of us experience this identity crisis many times in the course of our lives and as any collision, it’s a painful experience.

As for “midlife” crisis, Hollis does not see it as “a momentary madness” , but an invitation from our soul to a more authentic existence, when something larger is wishing to emerge; an opportunity to radically examine one’s life. We have gathered enough internal material to actually address the critical question,

Am I living my life or somebody else’s?


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Recently I’ve been very picky when it comes to fiction and could not find everything I wanted from a good book in one and the same volume (hmmm, can it be a metaphor for something else :-)? ) Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance: an inquiry into values” was a bestseller in the 70s but I somehow missed it even in the 90s. As it often happens in life, we found each other when the time’s right. This book has it all, as simple as that. I might think otherwise in a couple of years but that would be a different me, wouldn’t it?

A book like this I want to keep close to me at all times, as though through physical proximity some of its energy can spill over and become part of me. I missed this sort of reading when every time you open a book is like going on a date:  will it be as good as the previous one?;  can we connect today?


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I received a few comments to my previous post, some of them not on this page. What they had in common was the idea that we need others because we love them and needing people was in fact not so bad. In short: we need to need people.  I believe that the idea that some degree of dependency in a relationship is OK aside from the cultural underpinning is also backed up by another strong belief: if we don’t need others we will end up being cold-hearted and detached people and that is not an attractive picture. Likewise, if others don’t need us, we will end up lonely and unappreciated.


What about the Dalai Lama, Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mandela or other individuals who have shown enormous compassion to their fellow humans and do not strike me as cold, detached and non-caring? Nor do they appear(ed) to be lonley and unappreciated. It is easy to think that once we take away our dependency on others, there will be nothing left.


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If I had a prayer, it would be this:

“God, spare me from the desire

for love, approval, or appreciation”.

From “Loving What is”, by Byron Katie

Let me say from the start:  when it comes to romantic love, I was cultured into the whole you-complete-me belief  through films, books and some ideas that basically made it impossible to have a healthy relationship. I grew up in a culture where jealousy was (and still is) taken as a sign of loving someone and even encouraged (especially in men).  The idea that loving someone involves an emotional attachment pervades many cultures but what does it actually imply? It means I depend on another human being for happiness. I depend on you for my happiness. How does this sound for responsibility?


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Natasha Mitchell of ABC Radio National and Radio Australia had another interesting guest on All in the mind show – German philosopher of mind Thomas Metzinge spoke about his research of the self as well as the first hand accounts of out of body experiences and lucid dreaming. Metzinge published his conclusions in the book “The Ego tunnel: The Science of the Mind and the Myth of the Self” and needless to say I am quite eager to engage my brain cells with it. As I understood from the interview,  not only it brings the light on the mechanics of the process of selfing (right, Metzinger views the self as not a thing, something solid that exists somewhere – where? – but the ongoing process, the construct) but also discusses how and why it evolved. Why do I so badly need to believe into my self ?

Glad to hear more scientists are catching up on what Buddhism saw already two thousand years ago – there is no self, but rather a set of experiences and our memory that connects them. (Metzinger is actually a long time meditator himself).


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