Why therapy now?

Some reasons people go into therapy…

Recovering from a recent loss, disappointment, trauma, stress, overwhelm: When you hit a bump in the road, can’t get yourself out of a stuck place (we all land there from time to time), or feel that Life has taken control of your life, it makes sense to find someone to talk to about what’s going on.

Recovering from childhood loss, disappointment, trauma, stress: This is what therapy is most known for. While it may seem unnecessarily painful to revisit the past, doing so from the perspective of understanding what happened to you and the context in which you developed can help you feel compassion for who you are and what you think, feel, and act. You can talk about anything with your therapist.

Happiness: When you realize that external objects and outside approval do not lead to lasting happiness, when you reach a place of unpleasant discomfort with life–a kind of incongruence or emptiness–when you realize you are not satisfied with the life you’ve created for yourself, you can use therapy to determine the best course of action…or non-action.

Curiosity about you: When you want to know more about who you are and what “makes you tick,” not in a negative pathological way as in “what’s wrong with me?” but in a curious and kind way, a trained therapist can offer a safe space for you to learn all about you.

Personal Growth: You might have reached a place in your life where you want to grow as a person, change patterns of thought, feelings, behavior. You might want to trade in ineffective and unhealthy habits for something new and different.

Guidance: Let’s face it, parents may have done the best they could do, but life can get complicated, and friends and family members may have agendas and expectations. In therapy, you have someone who will listen and offer guidance as you navigate through whatever you are going through.

Is there something wrong with you?

No, there’s nothing wrong with you. Even now in 2016, here in Southern California–home of conversations sprinkled with “My therapist says…”–there is still a stigma about mental health. Going into therapy does not mean there’s something wrong with you or that you have a mental disorder. Going into therapy means a) you know something is not working for you and b) you are willing to take a look at what that might be.

Concerned about confidentiality?

Whatever you say in therapy stays in therapy…unless you say it’s okay for your therapist to talk to someone such as your medical doctor or a family member…in writing! Without your permission in writing, what you say in “the room” stays in the room.

Part 3: when are you going to _____ again?

You might have read parts ONE and TWO of this series on doing what you love.

This article assumes that a) you know what you love to do and b) you’ve started doing it. So let’s take a look now at maintaining a practice.

Life is a practice

You’ve dusted off the bugle that’s been tucked away in a box in your garage since 1988; you’ve played a few songs for friends who ooohed and ahhhed at your hidden talent. Now what?

Do you want to play the bugle more than once every few decades? Maybe. Maybe not.

According to Buddhist philosophy, life, like playing the bugle, is a practice. It’s not a destination, a goal, or an achievement. The reward is in the moment.

Here and now vs. goals

There tends to be some confusion about here/now living, certainly in my mind, maybe in yours. Goals are important. Especially in our rush-rush, do-do, production-oriented culture. Goals are how we save for a down payment on a home or run a marathon…or play more than one song on the bugle.

Yet when the focus is only on goals, especially rigid goals, life can feel stressful, unpleasant, not worth living. Why?

Hint: because you’re living in the future and not the present. Here and now is the only time and place that we connect with ourselves and others.

Changing habits

Think of the patterns you’ve developed in your life. Beginning with waking. You wake in the morning. Then what?

Here’s a story from someone I met recently. Notice that she has no goals in her statement or her practice. There is no mention of working towards an hour of meditation instead of five minutes. Or developing biceps the size of grapefruit. She enjoys the activities for what they are.

I start the day taking care of my mind and body. I meditate. Right away. Then I do stretching/yoga. Then a short upper body work-out with weights. Brush teeth, wash face, eat, etc.

That wasn’t always how I started my days, though. There were periods of my life when I’d rush out of the house, gulp a Venti from Starbucks, slam down a bagel with cream cheese, and dedicate the next eight or ten hours to someone else’s plan…putting in eight to ten hours at work, getting children to school, making sure they’re eating healthy enough, have stimulating activities, dinner, homework.

Working for any organization, company, or corporation takes time, energy, and more time and energy. If you’re a parent, you know that your days are not your own. Taking care of a relative in need? Burnout and compassion fatigue are common.

Locus of control

Let’s call focusing outside of yourself as an external locus of control for lack of a better term. To make this work, we have to bend the definition a little. Traditionally, the definition of locus of control includes personal responsibility and blame. According to Wikipedia:

A person’s “locus” (Latin for “place” or “location”) is conceptualized as either internal (the person believes they can control their life) or external (meaning they believe their decisions and life are controlled by environmental factors which they cannot influence, or by chance or fate). [1]

There’s a judgmental bent to the definition…blame being used by people who attribute their locus of control externally when life doesn’t go the way they would like.

Many times, we have to focus on external demands to feel good about ourselves. Work to earn money. Take care of children so they feel loved and appreciated. Pay attention to partner to maintain a relationship.

If you think that doing these things is out of your control, you will feel resentful, sorry for yourself, sad, or angry.

Accepting lack of control

How did we get to the topic of locus of control when the article is about doing what you love? Think about it. Does your life control you or do you control your life?

Twelve-step philosophy offers us the serenity prayer:

May I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

We can change this a bit too. May I have the serenity to accept that I have control to decide how I spend my time and energy. Then, can I set aside five minutes a day to practice doing what I love?

Bottom line: Consistency is more important than amount of time.

You do have the time and energy. Try practicing doing what you love five minutes a day. If need be, get up five minutes earlier. Then see what happens.

But, but, but…I feel your pain. Even five minutes a day takes discipline, presence, attention, love, patience, forgiveness, energy, lots of energy. Yes. The more you do what you love, the more you will find the time and energy to do it.

Part 2: When are you going to _______ again?

In Part 1 of this series, I listed two reasons (money, time) so many of us don’t do what we love to do. In this article, we’ll look at other challenges we face.

You’ve got the money figured out and you’ve got the time to do what you love. What next?

Your passion speaks to you with urgency. Do this now, it says. Dust off your trombone, your drum set, your ballet slippers. Drag your bicycle out from behind the boxes in the garage. Buy a new set of acrylics and an easel. Just DO IT…(sorry Nike you don’t own that).

First, because you’ve put it off for so long. And second, because you long for a more meaningful life. Do this thing–whatever it is for you–and you’ll feel more enriched, satisfied, content, happy. Your life will have more LIFE.

But wait a second.

Do you know what you love?

Let’s back up a paragraph or two. I apologize. I assume that you know what you love to do. Maybe you don’t.

It’s not always obvious and not always easy to decide what you love to do unless you do it. It’s kind of Catch-22. You might try an activity and discover that you don’t like it at all. Or you try it and you like it. Or you try it and you get that click feeling.

Difficult to describe, you know it when you feel it. The two of you are hand-in-glove, two-peas-in-a-pod, a good match. No explanations necessary. Like falling in love, but better because the click goes beyond feeling, beyond thinking, beyond words.

So, you might begin by revisiting the activities you enjoyed and the dreams you had as a child. What did you do that made your awareness of time and space fade into the background?


Doing what you love doesn’t mean the activity is always easy or pleasant. You know it’s not. Tapping a keyboard might be fun and exciting in itself for a while or for a percussionist, but this activity called writing goes beyond the physical motion and into a space I can’t describe. Somewhere inside of you, when you do the activity you click with, you know it. It feels right. You enter an almost out-of-body experience. You FLOW in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s terms.

Csikszentmihalyi (chik zen mee hi) is a Positive Psychologist who wrote Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (2008). The book is based on his study of optimal experiences or …deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life

Don’t want to read a whole book now? Watch Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s TED talk. These optimal experiences are what Abraham Maslow termed Self-Actualization. After all the lower needs–Physiological, Safety, Love/Belonging, Esteem are met–he hypothesized, we reach a state of self-actualization, authentic self, or flow.

According to Csikszentmihalyi:

an activity you love + 100% of your attention + skill = FLOW

If you’ve ever experienced flow, you will remember it. Some people describe it as an altered state. A composer in the TED Talk said he felt as if notes flowed from his hand; his self, his ego had nothing to do with the music he wrote.

All you’re aware of is the activity. Everything else drops away. Body sensations fade into the background. Taking care of self and others, grooming, housekeeping, bill paying, all unimportant. Rock climbing, playing music, running, writing, cooking…the activity takes every bit of your attention. Csikszentmihalyi refers to the state as ecstasy.

Sounds great! Sign me up! I want more ecstasy.

So what’s the hold up? You have the time, you have the money, you have or are searching for the activity you love.

100% of Your Attention

Ah! There’s one of the rubs. That long to-do list I mentioned in Part 1 of this series? Refuses to subside. The ambient noise, motion, and other external and internal stimuli we are inundated with every day? In the foreground of your mind. The ordinary activities we have to do to keep up a human existence? Calling you. The unexpected demands on our time and attention? All distractions.

As an example, I pay my health insurance premiums every month…on time. But because there is a glitch in the way BS processes payments, I spent two hours investigating who, what, where, when, and how mine were paid for the past six months. Thankfully, my agent cleared up the confusion quickly. But you know what I’m talking about. My attention went from here writing to there defending myself against health insurance cutoff with no human on their end to answer my questions by email or phone.

So this life, the way we live, we have that sort of thing to deal with. And we have another sort of thing to deal with, too. Me and everyone else who thinks they have something important to say want your eyeballs. Maybe this article inspires you; maybe it doesn’t. I hope it does.

My intentions are pure. I earn no money from your reading my articles. Other intentions are less so. Web sites want your clicks, your eyeballs, your attention. Buy our fabulous products, you need one of these or four of those, you can’t live without this unbelievably once-in-a-lifetime, now or never offer. Look at what this celebrity did or how that person aged or beat age or made it rich. Or now and for the next several months…send money or take time to volunteer for your favored presidential candidate so you don’t have to move to Canada in January.

Whew. I wear myself out writing about this complicated life we live. So let’s make a cup of tea, take a break. How are you? How much time are you spending on the activity that you love? How is your concentration and attention?

Skill and mastery

According to Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers: The Story of Success (2008 was a very good year for books), it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi it takes 10 years.

Highly controversial, this concept is challenged when we see videos on Facebook of four- and six-year-olds painting masterpieces or dancing, tumbling, singing, playing violin, whatever the activity, as if they had practiced for decades.

Reincarnation could explain prodigy. But more likely, whatever time is spent practicing or doing, innate talent plays a role too. I could practice the guitar for 10,000 hours but will never play like Eric Clapton or Duane Allman, right? Does it matter?

No, it does not matter if you are or are not talented. Unless of course, you also want to be the best in the world or famous. What does matter is that you love whatever it is you’re doing and how often you immerse yourself in it. I could be wrong, but happiness and celebrity are not mutually dependent, the two of which may even be negatively correlated.

Have I made my point? Discover your authentic self and the activities you love, then FLOW. Life is one big experiment.

Just Do It. 🙂

Oh, one last thought. Self worth. You deserve to feel ecstasy, flow, an altered state, concentration, good, happy, excited, fulfilled, satisfied. You deserve a more meaningful life. Till next time…





When are you going to write again?

A woman I know who reads what I write asked me at lunch yesterday, “When are you going to write another article?”


Oh yes, that. I had forgotten all about it. She woke me from what felt like a deep sleep.

I have been so busy with the slog of daily life that I had forgotten about writing, an activity that brings much pleasure and meaning to my life whether anyone reads it or not. I love to write.

What does this have to do with you?

And you? My three-month off-trail missing in-action diversion from writing symbolizes a universal dilemma we all face. How do each one of us fit into the endless to-do list activities that matter most in life? For you that might be spending time with friends, gardening, playing music, listening to music, making art, playing card games, fixing gadgets, inventing gadgets, cooking, walking at the beach, hiking in the mountains, acting, singing, riding your bike, running, or lying in the grass and watching the clouds float by.

I could tell you a fairy tale to follow your dreams, do what you love, and the rest will work out. Or visualize the life you want and the universe will make it happen for you. But that’s hogwash and you know it.

I could pass along the advice most parents give their idealistic children: get a real job, have a back-up plan, a day job, and do what you love as a hobby. In other words give up or sell out. I know. I did not like hearing that either.


But the reality is that life in our lifetime is tough. Reality means paying bills, which means doing some form of work that brings in money, or having enough investments to not have to work that way. For most of us, it’s the first. We need money to live and we have to work to earn it.

We need food to eat. We need a place to live. We need clothes to wear. We need to pay for health insurance. Oh yes, and here in SoCal we need a car. Just the basics cost $$$$ megabucks.

Then if we spend more than we take in because life is so very expensive, our credit score suffers. Questionable credit scores trigger all kinds of problems, not least of which prevents “offenders” from getting hired at a job that brings in money to pay for the basics.

I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to feel overwhelmed.


I’m taking a class in Self-Compassion through UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC). Can you believe that is where we are? We have to learn how to be compassionate towards ourselves. But yes, that is where we are. Teresa, a fellow student, asked if self-compassion was another item on an already long should and to-do list. She made a good point.

Including some of what she entertained us with…the whole class was laughing…and some of my own observations, we have to:

  • Find an affordable and safe place to live (good luck in SoCal)
  • Buy and prepare food (make sure it’s healthy 🙂
  • Take care of grooming ourselves so that we don’t offend others
  • Get teeth, eyes, and the rest of the body checked for early warning signs of gingivitis, glaucoma, hypertension, high cholesterol, cancer, heart disease…you get the idea
  • Exercise to keep the body healthy and toned and as young as possible for as long as possible
  • Commute to wherever we’re going…a very big consideration here
  • Walk the dog; clean the cat box
  • Take care of children; help them do their homework; take them to soccer practice
  • Clean the house? Really?
  • Oh and finally, do that something that brings meaning to your life

You can see how that last item drops off the bottom.

The have-to to-do list grows in proportion with progress. Life has become too much, which, by the way, defines stress. Life is just too much for human beings to deal with.


What I mean by life gets in the way of living is that life has gotten so complicated, so busy, so hurried, so stressful that many times it feels more like surviving than living.

What’s the difference, you ask?

We can use the swimming metaphor from a previous article.

Surviving feels like you’re paddling arms and legs as fast as you can to keep your head (and nose and mouth) above the surface. Your effort feels not good enough. You feel water touch your nostrils. You might even go under now and then. Very unpleasant.

Living feels like skillfully swimming to the water’s edge, climbing the nearest ledge and jumping off. Kupaianaha! (Hawaiian for fantastic, wonderful urbandictionary.com and possibly the origin of cowabunga). Or Cannonball! Splash! Swim. Repeat. Very pleasant.

Did you know? Swimmingly means smoothly and satisfactorily.

Can you feel the difference? There’s a sense of overwhelm with surviving and a WOW quality with living. You tingle all over.

Life of course is not always kupaianaha. Life tests our ability to navigate the inevitable ups and downs.

Navigating life’s transitions

I gave a talk yesterday on Navigating Life’s Transitions at the Santa Monica YMCA. We started with introductions followed by a couple of minutes of relaxation meditation to give everyone time to come into the room. For most of us, the body arrives before the mind does.

I expected to teach the women in the audience something about resilience, courage, determination, putting one foot in front of the other even when the going gets so difficult you just want to stay in bed all day.

Halfway in, I realized that they already know how to navigate transitions. Marriage, divorce, immigration, children, stroke, cancer, depression, anxiety, job loss, moving…the list was long.

So I changed my talk midstream and validated their strengths. Close your eyes, take a few breaths and savor your resilience, your courage, your determination, I said.

They’ve asked me to come back to do another talk. Now there’s another activity that I would do even if I didn’t get paid for it. I don’t. 🙂

I’m writing again. So, when are you going to ______ again?


Life is a slog when you don’t make time for people and activities that are meaningful to you.

Motto of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center:

Don’t believe everything you think.

–Diana Winston, Director of Mindfulness Education

We writing geeks enjoy moving words around, contemplating the use of the Oxford comma, and expressing thoughts and feelings between the lines. Ha! And you thought it was the words!

Letting go

It was November 25, 2015, day four of a seven-day silent meditation retreat.

Forty of us sit in the dusk-lit meditation hall at the retreat center. Gil suggests that before we go to bed, we set an intention for the next day. Without hesitation, I set an intention to let go of all expectations and control.

During a guided meditation the next day, I sit cross-legged on a zafu and zabutan, hands on knees, eyes closed, and observe myself sitting on the edge of time and space…defying physics in the spacious consciousness of freedom from the internal chatter, body tension, and learned expectations of what being human is supposed to be. I had let go.

When I try putting words to this experience, it sounds like: I was sitting on a line. No. A line has distance and distance means time. I was sitting on a point. How could I fit on a point? I was sitting on now. You know, that elusive place. Now is not even ephemeral. Here. Gone. Like that. Teetering in the moment between past and future. Now.

Reaffirming the intention

On December 31, 2015 at a meditation center in Santa Monica, I reaffirm my intention…this time I extend it to this year. My intention is to let go of all expectations and control, and add, “My intention is to [fuzzy memory]” something about being my authentic self and doing work that is meaningful to me.

None of this seems odd or outlandish. The way I’ve been living…with expectations, the illusion of control, and not enough courage to be my authentic self…has led to disappointments, a feeling of failure, self-criticism (i.e.: labeling experience as failure), self-doubt, self-loathing, and body tension I wasn’t aware of. I reached a tipping point…old habits weren’t working anymore.

Since then, I am letting go of all expectations and control has become a kind of mantra for me. And with that, my experience of life is changing.

We’re all in this boat

I share this with you because I believe most of us learn to have expectations about what life is supposed to be. We learn all the rules, the shoulds, the striving, the clinging. We learn that owning a house, a car or two, working in a cubicle in a building, getting married, having children…pursuing a career that earns enough money to afford all of that, is what life is. We learn to worry about the future and ruminate about the past.

When @$!& happens as it did in 2008, when illness or accidents happen, when unfortunate events happen, when this version of life becomes too much, some of us let go. If we’re unlucky, we escape into unhealthy habits…with awareness, we can let go…

like Neo did with intention and unplug from The Matrix.


This brings me to the past week’s unexpected encounters. As you visit these memories with me, keep in mind the intention. No expectations. No control.

While walking to the mindfulness group I lead on Wednesdays in Manhattan Beach, I realized I had gone too far and had to loop back along the railroad tracks to get to the street that leads to 2nd, my usual route. And there out in their front yard of a house I would not have passed were Keith and his two parrots.

new_neighborsKeith was spraying their feathers with water. He said the water keeps their feathers healthy, shiny. We talked for a while then he asked me if I wanted a picture with them. We talked some more and then I went on my way. Now I know Keith and his parrots. I wished him a motorcycle ride…he hasn’t been riding for a while.

Two new people came to the mindfulness group. Turns out they had heard about it from someone I don’t know.

I stopped at Trader Joe’s on my walk home. A young, lanky, Asian man [unusual even for TJs] was stocking the dairy section with individual-sized containers of yogurt…using a putting iron! I laughed; so did he.

“It’s version 2.0,” he said, and showed me how someone had cut off the head of the iron and bent the shaft. He was using it to line up the containers in rows with the least space between them.

Then, at the cash register, another man, young, attractive, kind face, held a jar of olive tapenade while I went back to the dairy case for a bottle of green cold pressed juice like the one he was buying. We agreed that it was good to run into each other…just because.

These chance encounters happen every day now. As my body softens; as my heart opens; as I let go of all expectations and control…

Softening invites in kindness

One of my other teachers mentioned this might happen. Matthew was giving a talk on kindness and was explaining how softening the body opens us to kindness.

Soft, open, and vulnerable are not words we hear often. Pump iron, build muscle, have snappy comebacks on Facebook, protect yourself, be strong…even yoga can be a strength-building exercise! We learn to build tension, armor, walls to keep out the risk of being hurt or left behind or left out.

Tense body

Throughout each day and night, we are bombarded with stimuli from outside and inside us. Noise, light, movement, pressure, smells, temperature changes, visuals, thoughts, feelings, memories…all coming at us at speeds we can’t control. Your conscious mind may not be aware of this, but your unconscious mind and body are. The body holds tension that we learn to accept as normal.

What can we do

We can practice becoming aware of the tension, aware of our expectations, aware of this illusion of control. And then we can practice letting go. Each time we let go of a little of it. A little body tension. A troubling thought. A worry. An expectation. The illusion of control. Each time, we soften and open to the world, we invite in kindness.

I can run again…not far or often, but far enough and often enough. I can get into yoga poses that were impossible for me before. I feel softer, more open, and yes, more vulnerable. Being open and vulnerable means being open to kindness and also open to hurt, pain, loss, and real reality. It’s all part of life.

Don’t believe Gil or Matthew or even me, though. Try if for yourself. Let go for a breath. And see what happens.

More about love

Love is ethereal, complicated.

Lovingkindness is practical, straightforward.

We learn the word love when we’re children, with an innocence and openness we later learn to cover up and defend. It’s only with intent and practice that we can learn to be innocent and open again as adults

This being February, home to cupid and Valentine’s Day, love might be on your mind: hearts and flowers, butterflies and hummingbirds, chocolates and a candlelit dinner with white linen tablecloth, and a glass of Pinot something or Veuve Clicquot regardless of your relationship status. You might feel a sense of longing if you’re single and alone; escape if you’re in a relationship and unhappy; or expectations of a specific experience if you’re in a relationship and relatively happy. Whatever your response, my guess is it has little to do with love the way we’re going to look at it. I could be wrong.


A pleasant feeling for a romantic partner is one kind of love. Other kinds of love include: love of an activity or experience (hiking), love of an object (pepperoni pizza), love for a parent, child, friend; platonic love, spiritual love, and of course, romantic love. Each has varying levels of intensity, attachment, and expectations.

Some, not all of us, expect pepperoni pizza to deliver the same dopamine rush it always has; hiking the same adrenaline rush as the last climb past your comfort zone. We expect parents to accept and love us unconditionally; a child to love without question; a partner to give us everything we could want or need. Of course, I’m exaggerating to make a point…you can see how expectations can lead to disappointment, pain, anger, sadness, and suffering.

Love can be the greatest feeling you’ve ever experienced. Being in love can be quite a high too, but…well, let’s put all of that aside for the moment.


Gil Fronsdal, teacher, co-founder of Insight Retreat Center and Insight Meditation Center both in Santa Cruz California, explains that there are four types of healthy love according to Buddhist psychology: lovingkindness (metta in Pali); compassion (karuna); sympathetic joy (mudita); and equanimity (upeksha).

Lovingkindness is the foundation for the other three. It is a friendly expression or treatment of others. Hmmmm…already there seems to be a difference between this type of love and the Hallmark version that Valentine’s Day conjures up.

Unlike the expectations that come with love, lovingkindness emphasizes a selflessness even when wishing lovingkindness to self. Lovingkindness is a practice. That means, it takes time and intention to change the habit of wanting or longing to loving and being kind to self and others.

The Dalai Lama often says, “My religion is kindness.” He talks about a gentleness in his relationship with his mother and her affection for him. Kindness and gentleness may not occur to you when you think of love.

Thich Naht Hanh differentiates true love from intrusive or unwanted love:

[Lovingkindness is] the intention and capacity to offer joy and happiness. To develop that capacity, we have to practice looking and listening deeply so that we know what to do and what not to do to make others happy. If you offer your beloved something she does not need, that is not maitri [love]. You have to see her real situation or what you offer might bring her unhappiness.

Practicing lovingkindness

You can start to practice lovingkindness with yourself to soften the inner critic, deconstruct the defenses and barriers (we all have them). Then later, you can set an intention to offer joy and happiness to people you care about, and extend those same intentions to everyone you know and don’t know.

If this sounds saccharin to you or impossible, no need to accept it all at once or even at all. But consider this experiment: compare the responses (yours and others) you get when you are angry/sad/defended/expecting something from yourself and others and the responses you get when you feel kind, gentle, loving, accepting, and non-judging.

We live in a culture that promotes the winner takes all philosophy, cynical beats vulnerable, and intimidation rules. We learn that it’s better to protect the heart than open to the possibility of it being broken. But guess what? Too much protection eliminates the possibility of the heart being enriched and full of love and joy.

Based on my experience, practicing lovingkindness is as much for you as it is for others.


Want more from the sources?

Gil Fronsdal’s talk on audiodharma.org. Gil talks about different kinds of love according to Buddhist psychology, what love is, and what it isn’t.

The evolution of intelligence

Observation #1: This is my intelligence speaking. I write like I think; I think like I live. I have goals, but no expectations or illusions of control. And BTW, not always grammatically or politically correct.

Warning #1: If you think this is a choice, understand that we all live with uncertainty all the time.

Observation #2: We all get stuck in our heads from time to time, referring to journal articles and results from scientific studies. Attempting to connect intellectually from the cerebral cortex instead of emotionally from the heart.

Warning #2: this feels like one of those times for me.

A little intelligence history

Remember those nasty standardized tests in school?

Who can forget the anxiety, the pressure, the pleased or disappointed expressions of parents and teachers? Students with high scores were directed toward college prep; students with lower scores got shuffled into business or shop. Now though, the times they are a changin’.

IQ (Intelligence Quotient) tests were and still are thought by some to measure raw intelligence and predict future success.

But raw intelligence does not predict anything. Standardized tests that all students take today measure achievement, that is, what students have learned so far. According to a couple of psychologist friends who work in a school, only the students who are falling behind or score low on those tests get the IQ, now known as WISC-IV (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children) tests.

The WISC-IV  still provides one IQ score, but this battery of tests measures multiple areas and includes sub scores for those areas. The WISC-IV is expensive and takes about 4 hours of one-on-one time with a psychologist trained in administering the test. Not in most school budgets for all students, it is used to determine necessity for and allocation of special education resources, not to identify areas of giftedness.

Your intelligence

The WISC-IV is not what you would have taken with the rest of your classmates in school decades ago. Nonetheless, do you know what your IQ score is? And do you know how that score has affected your life?

You may have scored high and become highly successful in life. Or you may have scored high and “underachieved.” Conversely, you may have scored low and been laughing your a– off in your penthouse office and multi-home existence. Not that money measures success, but that IQ scores do not predict anything.

If you are familiar with Darwin’s theory, the most successful at surviving and thriving are those who can adapt to changes. Hmmmm….

Multiple Intelligences (MI)

in 1983, Howard Gardner, PhD introduced the concept of multiple intelligences (MI). He describes his theory in this Wall Street Journal article (Strauss V., October 16, 2013):

A belief in a single intelligence assumes that we have one central, all-purpose computer—and [that computer] determines how well we perform in every sector of life. In contrast, a belief in multiple intelligences assumes that we have a number of relatively autonomous computers… I estimate that human beings have 7 to 10 distinct intelligences (see www.multipleintelligencesoasis.org).

You can read brief descriptions of the MIs in this Wikipedia article then go from there.

All of us, Gardner suggested, have multiple intelligences. Kobe, Stephan, Cam, and Peyton would score high in Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence. Bob Dylan, you might guess, would be high in Musical Intelligence, but perhaps even more so highly intelligent in Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence. Mick Jagger, high in Bodily-Kinesthetic and Musical. You get the idea.


We all have highs and lows in imagined MI scores. (There is no MI test, although you can take this quiz for fun.)

Enough about that. What I really want to talk about is emotional and social intelligence. In MI terms, that would be inTRApersonal intelligence and inTERpersonal intelligence. Someone who is high in intrapersonal or emotional intelligence understands his or her emotions and manages emotions well in difficult situations. Under pressure, someone high in emotional intelligence will think clearly. Barack Obama is high in emotional intelligence; Martin Luther King Jr. was too.

From Wikipedia:

[Intrapersonal Intelligence] refers to having a deep understanding of the self; what one’s strengths or weaknesses are, what makes one unique, being able to predict one’s own reactions or emotions.

People who are high in social intelligence understand relationships and other people’s emotions.

…individuals who have high interpersonal intelligence are characterized by their sensitivity to others’ moods, feelings, temperaments and motivations, and their ability to cooperate in order to work as part of a group….[they] communicate effectively and empathize easily with others…Gardner has equated this with emotional intelligence of Goldman [sic].”

Daniel Goleman is the author of Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter More than IQ (2005) and Social Intelligence: The Revolutionary New Science of Human Relationships (2007).

Insight and relational mindfulness

The mindfulness and psychology community refer to the process of increasing emotional intelligence (EI) as insight and the process of increasing awareness of social intelligence (SI) as relational mindfulness.

When we sit quietly and allow thoughts and feelings to flow, and we allow ourselves to observe those thoughts and feelings without criticizing, analyzing, or judging, we give ourselves space for insights about self, others, and our human experience.

When we pay attention to another person, rather than our own thoughts and feelings, we develop social intelligence or relational mindfulness…awareness of others…the connection that so many of us long for and the ability to work together to accomplish that which we cannot do very well alone.

Since the first publication of Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter More than IQ in 1995, EI has become a goal in business, education, and with policymakers.

This all makes so much sense looking back. In the beginning (of testing I suppose), we thought intelligence was an IQ number and that it determined success, or failure. Along came Howard Gardner who introduced the idea of Multiple Intelligences and suggested that each of us has something more like a graph with highs and lows in 7-10 areas of intelligence. Rather than one massive number, like 120 or 140, MI eliminated the judgment about people with high intelligence in areas that were not measured by traditional IQ tests.

Next, Daniel Goleman focuses his attention on Emotional (EI) and Social (SI) Intelligence. The Western world embraces this new idea of what it takes to succeed.

If you know your own emotions + can manage them + you know what other people want and need = SUCCESS!

But success at what? More friends on Facebook? Higher salary? According to this article in The Atlantic EI and SI are good for the one and for the many:

If we can teach our children to manage emotions, the argument goes, we’ll have less bullying and more cooperation. If we can cultivate emotional intelligence among leaders and doctors, we’ll have more caring workplaces and more compassionate healthcare.

With higher EI and SI, perhaps we can save the world in every way.

Learning to be intelligent

Mindfulness exercises provide a way to strengthen or develop EI and SI. We do that by practicing awareness, attention, and equanimity. Awareness of whatever is happening in the present moment: sounds, smells, sights, tastes, sensations, emotions, thoughts. Attention to whatever we want to focus on. And equanimity to observe all of this without attachment to any outcome. Like clouds in the sky, waves in the ocean, pelicans flying in formation at dusk.

Where do we go from here?

The article in The Atlantic is titled The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence. It begins with a story about a man who studied responses to his body language and facial expressions to improve his public speaking skills. Adolf Hitler refined his emotional and social intelligence to a science and convinced a whole nation of people to follow him.

We can imagine Wall Street and other banking executives, CEOs of multi-national corporations, CEOs of non-profits, politicians, religious leaders, university professors, salespeople, and anyone in positions in which EI and SI would prove useful for manipulating others, and we can imagine the darker side of what many see as progress.

The author of that article suggests that:

if we’re going to teach emotional intelligence in schools and develop it at work, we need to consider the values that go along with it.

That’s where Ethics, IR and SR* come in. Try measuring that on a standardized test.

*Individual Responsibility and Social Responsibility.

Happiness Practice

Here in Southern California, we’re having a heat wave. Temperatures hover in the high 80′, 90’s, and in some places, 100’s. This is not a complaint. People living in other parts of the country have weather and environment issues too. But with few homes equipped for these temperatures, i.e. no air conditioning, moving more than necessary becomes unappealing.

So, if your energy has been zapped by the heat, consider watching and reading some of the books, Ted Talks, and documentaries listed in this article. They’re all related to happiness and Positive Psychology.

Positive Psychology research indicates that the essential ingredients for living a long, healthy, satisfying life are:

  • close connections with others
  • a purpose higher than oneself
  • a genetically set high base-level of happiness
  • daily habits that support and increase happiness including exercise, meditation (mindfulness), smiling and participating in activities you enjoy

Money helps too, but only to a certain degree ($50-80k per year).

If you are not as happy as you would like, are you are looking for happiness in all the right places? Or are you focusing too much on momentary pleasure and not enough on the bigger picture? The suggestions for increasing satisfaction in life in these books and videos come from rigorous scientific research, which differs, and sometimes opposes, advice in self-help books. As an example, instead of suggesting that you replace “negative” thoughts with “positive” thoughts to feel happier, you will learn that this mind-over-matter approach does not always work. And you will learn why. (The Happiness Hypothesis, J. Haidt). Martin Seligman, founder of Positive Psychology moves us beyond pleasure and contentment and toward flourishing. Enjoy reading. I will update this list from time to time, so check back.


Founder of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman, PhD. kicked off the journey into happiness when he discovered that “…psychology has badly neglected the positive side of life. For every one hundred journal articles on sadness, there is just one on happiness” (Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment, 2004, p. 6). Scientists write journal articles to publish the results of their research, which means that the psychological community pays more attention to what’s wrong with human beings than what’s right with us.

To learn about your “positive” attributes, take some of the self assessments on the Authentic Happiness website. Or the ViaCharacter website.

The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want (2008), Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD., begins with the question: Can you be more happy? and continues with self-assessments to determine your current level of happiness, a discussion about what happiness is and is not, and suggestions for ways to increase your level of happiness. So yes, the answer is you can be more happy. The How of Happiness is a practical how to be more happy book written by a research psychologist who backs her suggestions with research.

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom (2006) Jonathan Haidt, PhD. references Plato, Edgar Allen Poe, Buddha, Shakespeare and other wise minds to build his happiness theory. He uses the metaphor of a rider on an elephant to describe confusing human behavior. The rider (conscious mind) says go this way, and the elephant (everything else), when not aligned with the rider, says, no, we’re going this way. Guess which way the pair go? This delicious read begins with a discussion about the many divisions of the human experience (body/mind, left brain/right brain, old brain/new brain, voluntary/autonomic nervous systems) suggesting that each of us has more of an inner committee than a unified voice and concludes with “By drawing on wisdom that is balanced…we can train the elephant…”

Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert, PhD. bases his book Stumbling on Happiness (2005),  on the premise that the difference between humans and other animals is our interest in thinking about the future. “…thinking about the future can be so pleasurable that sometimes we’d rather think about it than get there” (p. 18). We have little ability, however, to predict the future. Imagine if we could! There would be no more fun in playing the lottery or stock market. But we’d have peace, a healthy environment, with no poverty, violence, and anger.

Martin Seligman leads the way again with his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being (2011) which moves our attention beyond happiness and toward flourishing. Flourish, according to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary mean “to grow well : to be healthy : to be very successful : to do very well.” Another online definition that just popped up in its own box above all of the other results seems more fitting “(of a person, animal, or other living organism) grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way, esp. as the result of a particularly favorable environment” because we cannot rule out the influences of the world around us. According to this new theory, to flourish, an individual must have: PERMA. Positive emotion (or happiness); engagement or interest; (positive) relationships; meaning; and accomplishment.

Documentaries and Ted Talks

You can find all of the following documentaries on Netflix and the TEDTalks on TED.com. When indicated, they can be streamed and watched right away.

Documentary: Stress: Portrait of a Killer (National Geographic, 2008). The human nervous system has had inadequate time to adapt to the environment in which we live. Rush here, rush there, multitask, manage complex financial demands, plan for the future, buy a new car, climb the social ladder. Is your house bigger than your neighbor’s? We live with in-your-face and less obvious sources of stress. To understand the stress response in our “natural” environment, Stanford neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky turns to baboons in the African savannah, the habits and hormones of which he has studied for more than 30 years. This documentary includes the work of other scientists who study the effects of stress as well. Available from Netflix to stream or as a DVD.

Documentary: Remember Harvard psychologist and author of Stumbling on Happiness, Professor Daniel Gilbert? PBS produced a three-part award-winning documentary hosted by Dan Gilbert: This Emotional Life (2010). Part One: Family, Friends, and Lovers; Part Two: Facing Our Fears; Part Three: Rethinking Happiness. Also available on PBS streaming.

TEDTalk: Daniel Gilbert again, this time on TED. Dan Gilbert: The surprising science of happiness (filmed on February 2004).

TEDTalk: Dan Gilbert: Why we make bad decisions

TED Playlist: What makes us happy? (9 talks) includes the two above.

Winner takes all

Superbowl 50 ended a few hours ago. Yay Broncos!

Even if you’re not a Broncos fan or a football geek, you notice, perhaps by going to Home Depot, that the American machine screeches to a stop to pay homage to the sport, the athletes who play the sport, and dare I say it? pride in our crazy, mixed-up country. Cynicism aside for a moment, the Superbowl breathes life into US.

You also know if you log on to any web browser that the Denver Broncos won today 24 to 10. The Carolina Panthers go home without the trophy, without the rings, without the Nike hats, shirts, without the sports drink endorsement deals, and $50,000 less per player in pay. Each Bronco earns $102,000. Peyton Manning earns an additional $2M.

Each year the entertainment value of the Superbowl increases. This year Lady Gaga sang the national anthem, the Blue Angels flying over as she let out from her gut “…of the brave” with such emotion, she brought tears to my eyes. Beyonce, Bruno Mars, and Cold Play performed at halftime; and a daschund ran through a commercial in a hotdog bun. For some of us, the Superbowl allows us to dream the possible dream.

Truly. The Superbowl is one of the few opportunities we have to watch the best of the best compete. In this case, the players and teams fight for athletic recognition and sponsor endorsement$$$. And the winners take all.

I watch the Superbowl, the NFL playoffs, the World Series, and the Women’s World Cup, or certain parts of them because the human beings who play in them are AMAZING athletes. The best of the best; genetically, through practice, and with timing, luck, and circumstance.

The athletes’ play is their work; their work is their play. Their sport is their life. They focus their attention on the goal of being as good as they can be. They love what they do. At least we imagine they do. Otherwise, why would they do it and why would we watch the Superbowl?

Most people dislike the work they do, and I am guessing that watching the Superbowl gives them a break from that reality. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon in February.

But I wonder…what does it mean to love what you do? Can you even imagine loving what you do? This may be simpler than you think.

First you have to know what you love. At the risk of sounding evangelical or redundant, bear with me as I switch to the concepts we learn in meditation.


You first need awareness. What is your passion, your love, your desire?

This is different from what do you do for a living. The answer will be unique for you. Maybe you love dancing, making art, playing music, writing songs, writing poetry, making deals, writing books, playing basketball, surfing, hiking, running, helping others, collecting Japanese manga, gardening, public speaking, teaching, advocating for a cause or a group of people or animals or the environment.

Awareness…what makes your juices flow? Not what did your parents want you to be when you grow up and not what is the quickest way to earn a living that leads to the home and cars and other stuff of your choice.

Awareness…what do other people need? If there is no need, there is no market and you will love what you do but you won’t survive financially, probably, I’m not sure about that one. This is the reason or excuse you will hear from yourself and others when you say, “I love hiking and meditation and writing and that’s what I’m going to be the best I can be at.”

“Hiking, meditating, and writing?” you’ll hear yourself say. “You can’t earn a living doing that.”

You might have heard you, or someone you know, say something like “When I was young, I loved making art. First my parents and then I, convinced me that I would not earn enough money to survive if I focused my attention on making art. So, instead of focusing my attention on mastering my skills as an artist, I fumbled around looking for a career that would pay my bills.” Sad, but true stories.


That’s exactly the type of thinking that prevents any of us from spending time and energy practicing the skills and honing the passion that drives us to master whatever it is we’re drawn to. Remember the 10,000 Hour Rule that Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in Outliers? It takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. If you tell yourself you can’t or shouldn’t do whatever it is, you won’t feel confident enough to devote time to mastering the skills necessary to find out if you can survive doing it. And that thing called love?…gone.

Self-criticism and self-doubt will quash the love you have for what you love doing.

Imagine following your dreams…doing what you love instead of doing what you think you should do or what will earn you the most money. How scary is that? You won’t find a formula for that path. No college degree X = career and income Y.

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell noticed that a group of successful people were all born within nine years of each other in the early 1800’s. Names you would recognize: Rockefeller, Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, all Caucasian men, all financial wizards, who made their fortunes in the late 1800’s when the American economy went through a transformation possibly similar to the one we experienced in 2008. These men had to have loved making deals. They were willing to take risks, and had timing and luck on their side.

They had no roadmap, no safe plan to follow. In a sense, they had the confidence, insanity, or both to jump off a cliff into uncharted territory.

Leap and your wings will grow.


Equanimity means inner peace. It means standing still in the midst of chaos and it means having the wherewithal to be able to think clearly, to observe calmly, to take in what is…not what you want to see. Jumping into the unknown takes a lot of this stuff we call equanimity. You need courage and confidence to continue when there is no support for what you want to, even need to, do.

In a 2013 Forbes magazine article Marc Bodnick (Why Do So Many People Hate Their Jobs?) writes:

…people hate their jobs because, now more than ever, there is the possibility to love their jobs … and they don’t.

We watch amazing athletes compete against each other and imagine them loving what they do. We watch amazing performers sing and dance and imagine them loving what they do. We watch amazing creativity played out in half-time commercials and imagine the artists and writers loving what they do. And then, through a sort of osmosis, we imagine ourselves following whatever dreams we left in childhood and loving what we do.

We live in a time and place where we have the luxury to imagine loving what we do. You owe it to yourself and to the rest of us to at least go that far. Put your toes on the edge and look over. Imagine your wings growing. And then imagine jumping off the cliff. Take the road you haven’t yet traveled.

Go Broncos! Go you!

What’s PUNny? Everything!

Sharon Salzberg has a formidable presence even when sitting. When I saw her, she was leading a daylong meditation retreat in Santa Monica.

The InsightLA event drew a standing-room only crowd at Crossroads Elementary School auditorium on that Saturday in 2010. I sat cross-legged on the floor just 15 feet from the stage. Sharon sat in a floral fabric covered arm-chair; a floor lamp to her right. She could have been sitting in your grandmother’s living room. She glanced at me and scanned the rest of the audience.

“All experiences are pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral,” she said.

This Buddhist concept of Vedana refers to our feelings and emotions or our responses to internal and external stimuli. In other words, Vedana describes our human experience of life and all that entails. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?

Let’s take a few sentences to consider, question, and even challenge this idea. Imagine three buckets in this PUNny (my attempt at humor) analysis: P is Pleasant; U is Unpleasant; N is Neutral or neither pleasant nor unpleasant. I’ll say a word, you put it in a bucket. Keep in mind, there are no right or wrong answers; your bucket depends on your experience. We’ll start out easy and go from there.

Pepperoni pizza
Bubble baths
Getting up in the morning
A double scoop of chocolate chip ice cream on a cake cone
Getting ready for work
Walking to school
Your best friend
Your partner
Your co-workers
Your family members
Rock scrambling

I think that’s enough to give you, and me as I write this, the impression that PUNny is more complicated than it sounds.


Most of us don’t pay enough attention to our experiences to know what they are, when we have them, or how we feel about them until our emotions take us off the rails. And even then, we’re so dysregulated we can’t think clearly.

That’s one point. The other is we don’t always have the same feeling all the time. And sometimes, we have more than one feeling at the same time! Keep that in mind as we continue.

As an example, I sit at my desk hands on keyboard fumbling my way through this idea. My stomach, full of a vegan lunch, grows tight. Unpleasant.

I am thinking in a way that stimulates me. Pleasant. I am writing. Also pleasant. I watch the time so I’m not late for the meditation group I’m facilitating tonight. Neutral; neither pleasant nor unpleasant. All at the same time!

Your turn. What are you doing, thinking, feeling right now? Are those experiences pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral?

You may have noticed from this brief exercise that the added element of time makes a huge difference. What’s happening now is more specific than a double scoop of chocolate chip ice cream on a cake cone in general. Right?

That first lick of ice cream is cold, sweet, creamy, most likely pleasant. The last crunch of the cone could be less so…ice cream all gone, boo hoo. Or the last bite could be more pleasant: ice cream gone yay…I was done with all that pleasantness.

Shifting emotions

Slow this scene down even more. Think of eating that ice cream cone in the presence of someone you like.

Ahhhhh. On a scale of 1-10, a 10 Pleasant.

Now imagine that while you are eating that ice cream cone your ice cream partner tells you he or she is dating someone else. Ah! Not pleasant any more.

When we add, in addition to time, the Buddhist concept of impermanence, we get closer to letting go, equanimity, and flow. How so?

Even if your ice cream partner said something like I love you or engaged in a stimulating conversation with you, and your response to this experience is a 10, the 10 won’t last. The 10 sensations of that first bite of ice cream becomes neutral and the mind loses interest, travels to another pleasant or even unpleasant place. See if you can pay attention to that the next time you’re eating ice cream.

How many bites does it take for your attention to go someplace other than the pleasant sensations of licking the ice cream?

Clinging and avoiding

The PUNny conversation continues with another Buddhist concept: suffering. The Buddha observed that clinging to pleasant, or wanting more pleasure in life; and avoiding unpleasant makes people unhappy. Initially, this sounds counter-intuitive. Of course we all want more pleasant experiences in life. And of course we all want to avoid unpleasant experiences in life. That’s not the problem. We get into trouble when we compulsively go after or compulsively avoid.

My thoughts always drift to alcohol, drugs, and other addictive substances and behaviors when I think in terms of clinging and avoiding. That first whatever it is, hit of cocaine, tablet of Vicodin, lick of ice cream, sip of Chilean Pinot Noir, bite of chocolate chip cookie, physical sensation of touch or sex, emotional promise of love, breath in meditation can be so pleasant you don’t want it to ever end. In fact, you might be so pleased, you want to enhance the feeling even more, you want the moment to be even more pleasant, a higher high, a deeper, richer sensation. This is where the chase begins. More. I want more.

Likewise and even simultaneously the chase of pleasant includes the avoidance or aversion to unpleasant. Life is difficult. Relationships are messy. We don’t always get what we want. Sometimes we don’t even get what we need.


Eventually, all good things pass. Infatuation, the high, enlightenment. All difficulties pass too. Disappointment, loss, loneliness, feeling lost.

In the practice of mindfulness and meditation, we develop the wisdom to accept impermanence and the equanimity to let life happen without clinging or avoiding. What’s PUNny about that? Nothing really. And everything, too.