Category: Meditation

  • Resources for Resilience

    I understand that many of you had a rough week.

    You saw a candidate who routinely insulted minorities, immigrants, handicapped people, and LGBT folks become President-elect of the nation. You saw a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women win the highest office in the land. And you saw friends, family, and fellow Americans disregard all of that ugliness and vote for him anyway.

    If in the past week you have felt less safe; disrespected as a woman; in despair about the state of democracy; worried about the future of your self and country – I hear you.

    So I’m having free office hours tomorrow Wed 16 Nov from 12 noon-2pm PT/3pm-5pm ET. If you want to talk about stuff, just call 213 444 6826. If I’m talking to someone else, leave a message and I’ll call you back.

    In the meantime, even though something very strange has happened, worry is not going to help. The world keeps turning, and frankly it needs you. So if you are not feeling tip-top, here are some ways to improve your resilience and bounce back, pronto:

    1) Move. There is nothing that changes your mood more reliably than exercise. So get out of the house and move – go for a run, do yoga, take an exercise class, or just enjoy a long walk. Even if you really, really don’t feel like it and it requires a crane to get you out of the house, just do it. You’ll thank you for it.

    2) Reconnect. We humans are hypersocial creatures. And yet, as books like Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone show, the sense of community in America has been eroding over the years. Singles living alone are now the biggest demographic group in America, and nothing about the 6 million year history of hominin evolution prepared us for living by ourselves. So get together with people. Organize a movie night, go watch sports together in a bar, go dancing, have a dinner party. Good company is healing.

    3) Listen to music. If you’ve noticed that music has mood-altering qualities, it’s because it does. It’s like a fast-acting, totally legal drug. Which also explains why so many repressive cultures ban music (think the Taliban or fundamentalist Iran). So grab your smartphone, fire up your Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music or Pandora, and listen to some seriously uplifting tunes. If said tunes make you dance, even better (see #1 above). Here’s a list of a hundred or so songs that never fail to get me jammin’.

    Classical music is particularly powerful for me. Some pieces that get me going when I need to scrape myself off the floor: Brahms Piano Concerto #1 (more on the kickass empowering and passionate side of things rather than just cheery); Mendelssohn Symphony #4, “Italian” (relentless exuberance); Beethoven Symphony #6 “Pastoral” and #7.

    4) Meditate. Sit. Yeah, just close your eyes and sit. And don’t do anything else. That’s basically what meditation is. For extra credit, do your best to clear your mind of thoughts. You do this by focusing on something other than random thoughts – say, the sensation of breath as it goes through your nostrils. Repeating an internal sounds also helps you focus. You can say “calm” as you inhale, and “mind” as you exhale. Mantra is the fancy Sanskrit name for this, and some religious organizations charge $5000+ for giving you one. Which is bananas. Just email me a beer instead.

    5) Practice mindfulness. Wait, I thought we just talked about meditation, didn’t we? Ah. Meditation is a form of mindfulness, but not the same thing. Mindfulness is something that doesn’t require that you sit or close your eyes. You can practice it all the time. It just means you’re paying attention to this present moment instead of the past or the future. Because, if you really think about it, all of your problems reside in the past or the future. Right now – this tiny sliver of a second constituting the present moment – is frankly too narrow to contain any problems.

    Mindfulness means that if you’re washing dishes, do that and only that. Feel the warmth of the water, the hardness of the plates, the slipperiness of the suds. Hear the sounds of splashing water, and the squeak of sponge on dish. If you’re walking, feel your footfalls. Which part of your foot hits the ground first? Which one is next? How do your legs feel as they alternately support and swing? What are your arms doing?

    As you do this, you may notice something: this moment in time is always fundamentally okay. If you’re reading this now, chances are you’ve got a roof over your head, you’re in reasonably good health, you’re fed, you’ve got friends and family who care. And then the next moment in time – still pretty good. And the next one? Yup. String together enough of these mindful moments, and you get whole days, months and years. This way, you can get through anything.

    6) Serve. One of the best ways to cheer yourself up is to help cheer other people up. Hey, why do you think I do this stuff? So call up a friend, offer to listen, go deliver a hug in person, send them this list, and otherwise make yourself useful.

    7) Be grateful. Let’s try an experiment: think of something you’re grateful for. Could be your family, your health, your car that gets you around. Now notice that while you’re feeling gratitude, it’s impossible to feel demanding, slighted, indignant or otherwise grumpy. I mean, you’re here! On Earth! With free gravity keeping you from being flung into space, free atmosphere giving you oxygen courtesy of plants, and a magnetic field and ozone layer that deflect cosmic and UV rays so we don’t get baked. Pretty sweet, eh?

    So go ahead and grab a piece of paper, and write down 3 things you’re super grateful for. Meditate on them, and deeply appreciate them in your life for 30sec each. Then go on with the rest of your day. Science shows that making this a daily or even weekly practice has measurable benefits for your long-term happiness. This really should have been at the top of the list; thanks to eagle-eyed reader Maria for bringing it to my attention.

    SF: THE TAO OF DATING AND LOVE, MON NOV 28

    All of the things I just mentioned are free and available to you right now. If you’d prefer to buy a ticket and you happen to be in the San Francisco Bay Area, you’re in luck. Because I’m doing one of my rare live events in a couple of weeks! The Tao of Dating and Love will be on the evening of Mon Nov 28. I’ll do a short (30-45min) lecture followed by Q&A. Tickets are cheap. And if you’re not in the neighborhood, tell your friends who are! Would be great to see them.

    WORLDWIDE: OPEN OFFICE HOURS WED 16 NOV, 12NOON-2PM PT

    As I already mentioned, for those not local to SF, I’ll have Open Office Hours tomorrow, Wed Nov 16, 12pm-2pm PT/3pm-5pm ET. Just call 213 444-6826. If I’m free, I’ll pick up; if I’m talking to someone else, I’ll call you back. Simple.

    PROJECT IRRESISTIBLE: NEW LIVE COHORT

    I’m starting a new live cohort of Project Irresistible two weeks from now on Tue 29 Nov. Why? Because it’s the holiday season, when a woman’s thoughts turn to love and “Who should I take to the office party?” and “Whom will be making out with at midnight on New Year’s Eve?” Most people have a lot on their plate during the holiday season (literally and figuratively), but they’re also going to a lot of social events. Moreover, everyone’s in a sunny holiday mood (read: slightly tipsy and/or desperate). Translation: This is a really good time to meet new people. Why do you think the most number of kids are born in August? Because people are hooking up left and right during the holidays, that’s why.

    Anyway, there are 6 sessions in total. We’re going to do 4 sessions before the New Year, which should get you in excellent shape to capitalize on all the social happenings. The remaining 2 sessions will be in 2017. If you join in the next 48hrs, you get $100 off with code “FALL100”. After that, it’s a $75 discount.

    And remember, the course is evergreen. All the material is online, and you can come back to it as often as you want, and join a live cohort whenever I have one. So if you’ve been meaning to get your love life in shape and find some warm, kind, steady, and fulfilling partnership, now is a really good time to sign up to refine your skills.

    STILL MOPING?

    Hey, I hear ya. Things were probably rough even before they got rougher! We live in uncertain times. But guess what: as the ever-wise Jack Kornfield brought to our attention in his talk at Spirit Rock last night, any human who has ever lived has lived in uncertain times! None of this is entirely new. And you know what? You’re ready to handle whatever comes your way. I have faith in you.

    And just so you can have even more faith in yourself, here are two resources straight from my secret stash that have been very useful to me:

    • The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have, by Mark Nepo. This is a daybook. You get an essay for every calendar day. For example, for May 1, it’s entitled “Burying and Planting: The culmination of one love, one dream, one self, is the anonymous seed of the next.”

    Mark Nepo has been through a lot (cancer, divorce etc). As a result, he always writes from a place of deep vulnerability. He also writes beautifully. No wonder Oprah went gaga over his book when she found out about it in 2010. You will, too, so get yourself the paperback gift edition for a mere $11 (or the ebook) and put it on your bedstand. You’ll be glad you did.

    • Reverend Dr Michael Bernard Beckwith speaks on Wed evenings and Sun mornings at the Agape International Spiritual Center in Los Angeles. You can either watch the livestream or go to watch from the archives right now for no charge (perhaps the Nov 9 service will be of interest; lecture starts around 51:00). He is one industrial-strength wallop of inspiration and the best living orator I know. The services are spiritually-oriented and non-denominational. I think of it as church for people who don’t usually go to church.

    There are some recurring themes to his messages: you have the power to think independently of circumstance; you have a gift, and the world is waiting for it. Yet somehow, every time it feels as if he’s directly addressing you and the challenge you’re having right now. Oprah has also recently discovered Rev Michael and had him featured on Super Soul Sunday. Rev Michael was a pivotal part of starting my writing career 11 years ago. He is an extraordinarily helpful resource in times of trouble or joy.

    And if you have a go-to resource that you’d like to share with the rest of the Tao of Dating community, please write it down here in the comments! Whether it’s running, knitting, playing with your pet, a particular book or poem, I’d personally love to hear about it, and I’m sure the rest of the readers could benefit from it, too.

    All the best, Dr Ali

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  • The Science of Meditation: 5-day online class, Oct 19-24

    Meditation has been the single most transformative practice I have taken up. It has made me a calmer, less reactive, more thoughtful person. The first thing I do every morning is meditate, and I consider it the most important part of my day.

    For years, I’ve been talking about meditation to whoever would listen. I’ve offered some rudimentary training in it in articles and workshops, and even talked about the science behind it. So I’m thrilled to announce that our friends at the Shambhala Mountain Center are starting a 5-day “Science of Meditation” online course featuring some of the best meditation teachers in the world.

    For someone deep into meditation, the list of teachers reads like the Team USA Basketball team roster: all the superstars in one spot. I am not exaggerating when I say these folks are the best at what they do:

    Anyway, the whole thing is broadcast for your benefit without charge; you may access the recordings up to 48hrs after they’re broadcast. Should you decide to purchase a package of the recordings, I receive a part of the proceeds. And frankly, if I didn’t receive a penny, I would still tell everyone in the world about this. There’s a few millennia worth of wisdom amongst these teachers, and they receive my highest recommendation.

    I’ll be listening to the lectures myself. Whether you’re a long-time meditator looking to deepen your practice, or a novice looking for a right excuse to jump in, you can’t do better than the teachers on the roster for the Science of Meditation Summit. Meditation is the life-changing practice, and I sincerely hope you can join me. Click here to sign up.

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  • The Wisdom of Women, Part 2: On Connecting Deeply

    Christine Marie Mason is one of the most extraordinary people I know and one of my favorite humans. She has been an entrepreneur, CEO of 6 different companies, BA and MBA graduate from Northwestern University, organizer of nine TEDx events, a yoga teacher, artist, musician, mother of six fantastic kids, grandmother, and most recently, a prison peace mentor. You may also know here from the wise, eloquent and empowering piece “Love Your Body Now” included in The Tao of Dating (Ch 7, p143).

    We met 15 years ago at a yoga retreat, so I thought I knew her pretty well by now. What I did not know was that when Christine was 12, her young mother was murdered and left in a cornfield. Her body wasn’t found for days. She had her first child at 19, then again at 20, and still finished college and the MBA program. Her first husband eventually had a schizophrenic break and ended up losing his job and squandering all their money. Her second husband got cancer, then proceeded to cheat on her in spectacular fashion even while Christine was helping him recuperate.

    These stories of violence, trauma, setback, recovery, triumph, betrayal, even greater setbacks, and the tools she’s been using for overcoming it all and continue growing are some of what Christine shares in her remarkable new personal growth memoir called Indivisible: Coming Home to Our Deep Connection (ebook and paperback), to be released Sept 12.

    Christine’s been kind enough to share the piece below about re-connecting to the body: how she discovered yoga, the initial effect it had on her, and what yoga taught her before she started teaching it.

    I’ll be having a conversation with Christine on Monday, 12 Sept 2016 at 6pm PT/9pm ET entitled “The Art & Science of Deep Connection” and would be thrilled if you could join me. Click here to sign up for the talk, get the call-in number, and receive automatic reminders to make sure you don’t miss it, ’cause I believe it’s going to be most excellent. Here’s the excerpt:

    The Poise of the Soul

    After a particularly long day in this spell of dot-com craziness, I was walking down a crowded street to catch a commuter train, when I saw my old friend Daniel. Daniel always had a ready smile. He was self-contained, a loving husband and father and accomplished professionally—at that time he was CEO of a public company, making all manner of kitchen gadgets.

    That night, he was shining. It looked to me like he had shed layers of himself; he was carrying no burden.

    “What happened to you? You look fantastic!” I exclaimed.

    He responded in an instant. “Yoga happened, and you look terrible. You’re coming with me this Friday.”

    That’s how my “way out” presented itself—as a way in.

    Yoga is sometimes called “Poise of the Soul.” Poise is equilibrium, readiness, balance, steadiness, stability, suspension between states of motion. Poise does not freak out over laundry, talk too much, go 90 miles an hour to make it to a meeting, or accidentally break things due to inattention.

    I went to Daniel’s yoga class. After a great struggling 75 minutes of a vigorous athletic form of structured postures linked together by the breath (we were practicing a form called Ashtanga yoga), the class arrived at Savasana, corpse pose, where we lay on our backs, arms outstretched, palms up, legs extended, letting all of our muscles relax, allowing our bones to sink into the floor, in a sort of half-state between sleeping and waking, a state of deep aware stillness. Through the breathing, the rhythm, the turning inward of yoga—through the not turning to an external thing like whacking a tennis ball or working into the night —I found my first peace in long memory.

    I kept going back to class, initially just for that Savasana.

    Connecting to the Body

    Yoga, as it has been popularized in the west, is often practiced with pumping music. People move fast and sweat and detox. It’s good exercise for the body and mind. But that wasn’t the kind of yoga I encountered that Friday evening. Daniel’s practice was deeply mindful – it made me take notice of things that had never before occurred to me. It was a practice that made me say, “Hmm…I can’t feel my feet. If I can’t feel my own feet, the connection from my brain to my feet isn’t working.” The eventual extension of that thought was this: If the connection between my feet and brain does not work, how am I going to connect to other people?

    Before I found yoga, I couldn’t feel my feet or even spread my toes—they were just down there somewhere. Nor did I know where my organs were in my belly. My insides were like a black hole between my ribcage and my knees. Can you feel where your liver is, unless it is in pain?

    After a while, I found that I could lift my arches and run an energetic current up my shins and thighs and ass and heart and right out the top of my head and back down again. The power I used in previous forms of athletics to release energy was something that could be channeled and leveraged inside of the body, to heal it and balance it, and restore equilibrium and clarity to my whole organism.

    The yoga practice that was handed to me started a new kind of self-inquiry: Am I aware of my breath? Where am I looking? Where are my feet? Are all four corners of my feet on the ground? Are my arches lifted away? Where are my fingers? Are they evenly aligned or evenly spaced? Am I standing tall or leaning forwards or backwards? Where am I in space? How good is my proprioception: the receiving (receptoris) of one’s self (proprius)? Am I aware of my own body’s parts in relationship to each other, to the floor, to the vertical line? What am I actually feeling? What is actually happening? It was a straight line to hyperawareness.

    I began to learn that the body has rising and falling energies, that when it gets certain inputs it releases certain chemicals, that there is a virtuous loop between the actions of the body and the chemicals that are released, and that this cycle is autonomic until we intervene and override it. We can start to use our breathing and our thoughts to restructure which chemicals are getting released from our minds and into our bodies. We can reprogram ourselves, literally. I didn’t know what this meant until I found yoga.

    Once I began, it was rapid-fire study. I went to my first class, and I knew I was going to return. Eventually, I found a connection to divine source on that quiet, meditative, sweaty little mat, something I never quite got in any traditional church. That tiny studio, with a purple Om symbol painted on the wall, above a pizza parlor in the middle of Chicago, curtains blowing in, sirens and car horns below, became a holy place. It was there that I discovered a sense of having a permeable body: my skin was always interacting with the environment, and I was always connected. I was made of the same stuff as everything else in the universe.

    I wanted to go deeper. In 2002, I went on a retreat led by power yoga founder Baron Baptiste. His easygoing introduction to yoga philosophy, musical open laugh, softness, strength, humor and accessibility just made me happy.

    Baron’s yoga was hard – a demanding fast flow, coupled with long holds in deep postures. For example, once we stayed for a full 20 minutes in a hip opener known as frog: Somatic theory says we hold our painful memories in the body, and holding this position for this long had people in the room (women especially), letting go and weeping at all the things held in the groin and hips. I took his teacher training in Tulum, just to keep growing.

    Then I stumbled, or was led, into a month of teacher training in an intense, academic program that honored a deep Indian lineage, with Yogarupa Rod Stryker- and that training has continued apace for the last 15 years – from the yoga of sound, to contact yoga, to extensive breath and tantric energy work, to studying Sanskrit texts – it is an unending investigation. But mostly it’s a living experiment into how to have the happiest and most authentic experience in a human body.

    Who is thinking these thoughts?

    By investigating the body, I began to investigate the mind also, and then even deeper into relationships.

    Once, early on, I was holding a yoga position called side plank for a long time. This position requires the body to form a long, firm, extended board, placing one hand on the floor, the other to the ceiling, and balancing between the side of the bottom foot and the palm of the hand, holding the belly snug and the hips high. It can be rigorous. My arms started shaking; my balance was challenged.

    At that moment the teacher said, “People… you’ve held this position for a long time. I invite you to look at your reaction to that. Are you gritting your teeth and tensing your jaw and toughing it out, even though you’re beyond your capacity? Are you collapsing and quitting because your conditioned mind is telling you it’s too hard, even though you probably could stay longer if you wanted to? Are you feeling proud, or maybe the inverse: inadequate?”

    “However you are meeting this posture on the mat,” he continued, “I guarantee you: That’s how you are meeting your life off the mat. How can you be kind to yourself in this moment, play your edge, and take responsibility for your experience? How much are your own thoughts and reactions responsible for your own suffering?”

    How much? Maybe one hundred percent.

    If side plank was hard, the other big practice, seated meditation, was harder. Sitting still, harboring a quiet mind, initially felt impossible. Even two minutes of meditation felt interminable. Every part of me resisted. It felt unproductive, and wasn’t burning calories. To make it easier, all kinds of techniques were offered: Watch your breath right where it enters and exits the nostrils, imagine a flame, say a mantra. But it was all just practice to do one thing: to notice the workings of the mind, and to let thoughts just pass by. To become a watcher of my own thoughts.

    But if I am watching my thoughts, who is thinking the thoughts? If I am witnessing them, they can’t be the essence of me.  These thoughts must be separately constructed. HEY! I am not my thoughts. And if I am not my thoughts, I can un-identify and manipulate them to a better outcome. Lo and behold, this was true. By watching and stopping unhelpful patterns of thinking, I learned that I could change the day-to-day experience of life in my body.

    I still haven’t met a single person who has been able to overcome really bad wiring without some kind of meditation practice. Well, maybe one person.

    For example, I learned to not judge a rising emotion or thought – just to see it as neutral energy. If all thoughts and actions are only energy, neither positive nor negative, I can transmute it. I can remove the negative element, and just use the energy. If an unsettling thought would arise, I would ask myself, what can I do other than sit here or numb out through work or busyness or sex or distraction? What can I do to not numb out, to really feel and then leverage the emotion? Can I channel it into awareness, creative force, or even just let it pass through me?

    Most of the productivity and creativity in the last decade has been the result of having learned to transmute whatever intense emotion is coming up into an activity or action that is in touch with experience, rather than pushing it away.

    Now, if I have disturbing thoughts, I can choose to be matter of fact: “Here is what it means to be in a human body; these are some of the liabilities.” Or, “I’ve been here before, it will pass.” I can realize, “Oh, that’s just my misperception talking; it is not my highest self.”

    With yoga, the recovery time from these disturbances, delusions and illusions and suffering is shorter.  It takes hardly any time anymore to come back, maybe a minute or two of breathing and —there it is! This is especially useful in navigating the daily kind of potential offenses in traffic or in the supermarket parking lot – is this my best self acting here? Or something else?

    Yoga roots me in a life-giving and life-affirming place, rather than the old soup of pervasive inadequacy. It has made me strong, mentally and physically.

    The yogic ideal is strength and suppleness, being rooted yet able to reach, the perfect combination of grounded and flexible. There is an Indian fable that puts it sweetly: the serpent Ananta, an incarnation of a deity, is coiled up. Resting on his coils is the lord Vishnu—while on the top of Ananta’s head, the Earth is balanced. Ananta is strong enough to support the world, yet soft enough to be a couch for the gods.

    That’s what I aspired to be. Strong like that, and equally soft.

    I started going to class to feel better, and fell in love with the practice, and it gave me back my life.

    Do you know that saying “Lift while you Climb”? That translates into bringing others along with you. Whatever you know, you are obligated to pass on: Those who know must teach. If you know, you owe.

    Teaching yoga, helping one person at a time find the tools and technologies to achieve the Poise of the Soul, is a great gift. I sometimes teach Vinyasa flow classes. Sometimes, I teach extremely stiff people, and witness what it means to grow old without being connected to your body—it is not for the faint of heart. But I also see the relief they get from a single new insight or opening into a joint or the breath. It makes me recall my very first practice, and remember each time a teacher gave me a new posture or an insight. It reawakens gratitude and it gifts me with joyful learning. The teaching and the learning are cyclical, and the look on people’s faces as they come out of Savasana is like Christmas morning for me, every time.

    If you enjoyed what you just read, download a 16-page excerpt at
    http://xtinem.com/dr-ali-binazir-guests/ and use this password: DRALI1

    All the best,
    Dr Ali

    PS: Remember that the interview/teleclass with Christine is at 6pm PT/9pm ET on Monday, 12 Sept 2016. Click here to sign up and get automatically reminded of when it happens.

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  • Marriage Part 2, crash test dummies, and how to stop beating yourself up

    Wow! So many comments from the Garden Gnomes article — a new record for the site, in fact. Apparently marriage is on people’s minds. Some of the ladies had pressured to get their partners to propose, and saw the error of their ways:

    “This was just what I needed to hear today, thank you! We have an amazing relationship & have only been together a little over a year. I don’t want to weaken it by putting pressure on him about marriage. Now I just need to share this with my well-meaning friends who pester me about why I don’t have a ring yet every time I see them! Thank you!” – Renee

    “I recently put pressure on my boyfriend about this, and we can both feel the strain in the relationship now. It’s not worth it to push any issue. It would definitely feel much better if it were his decision without the pressure, and I feel very selfish now. I guess I needed this article, and I thank you. Marriage does still remain important to me, but I think a good relationship with a man I trust is better.” – Michele

    Others were more of the Beyoncé camp: girl should stick to her guns, and if the dude wants to stick around, he should put a ring on it:

    “She should be able to discuss what her relationship needs are. Most women do not thrive when they are in limbo. Most women want relationship security. Most women want to know that the man they are with has a current intention to be with them in the future. Maria should feel 100 percent comfortable checking in with her man to see if they are still on the same page. If she genuinely and lovingly communicates to him what her genuine needs are, and he cannot meet them, she should wish him the very best for the future and move on. There is abundance and a lot of opportunities for love in this world.” – Elle from Oz

    All salient points. Now I know a little bit about the courtship and dating — y’know, the part leading up to the scary forever promises and written contracts and stuff. But if you want advice on marriage and relationships from the source, I encourage you to consult the magus himself, Prof John Gottman, starting with The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (ebook and paperback). In addition to being married himself, he has videotaped, analyzed and advised thousands of couples and written reams about the topic. 

    Marriage is a supremely complex topic that we could debate till the end of days. So I’ll just say a few words before we move on to new letters. Specifically, that marriage does not necessarily bring you security.

    Reader Tess Bee’s comment encapsulated the theme of the pro-marriage camp: “I’m not saying a marriage certificate will stop a man from leaving. But the very fact of swearing in front of witnesses to remain “’til death us do part” shows a level of commitment which imbues a woman with a sense of security that is simply not there without a tangible commitment.”

    Well, let’s imagine this scenario: suppose I offer you a ride crosstown, and I tell you, “By the way, there’s only a 50% chance that we’ll crash — you should be fine.” How safe would you feel about that ride? Would you even take it?

    Dumb question, I know. That’s what crash-test dummies are made for. And yet, 50% is also the intrinsic failure rate of marriages in the US. And for some reason, there are millions of people clamoring to get in on that deal.

    Dunno about you, but a coin flip to crash ain’t my idea of security.

    Now I know what you may be thinking: “Oh, that’s the other 50%. They weren’t talking about us. Our bond is special.” This would be a prime manifestation of one of the most pernicious cognitive biases known to man — namely, the bad shit only happens to other people bias. May want to go ask those other people if they thought themselves “other people” when things went sideways.

    There is only one thing that will bring you security in this world: being comfortable with insecurity. There’s a great book about it — The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts (ebook and paperback). Because the truth is that the world is eternally in flux. Everything is jiggling, twisting, shimmying, dodging, weaving, all the time. Even that rock sitting there, seemingly quiescent, has quintillions of molecules vibrating unimaginably fast, perpetually. Everything is moving and alive. Chapter 76 of Tao Te Ching has something to say about this:

    Men are born soft and supple; dead, they are stiff and hard.
    Plants are born tender and pliant; dead, they are brittle and dry.
    Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a disciple of death.
    Whoever is soft and yielding is a disciple of life.
    The hard and stiff will be broken. The soft and supple will prevail.

    So according to Taoist thought, wishing for ultimate security — a form of stasis — is like being anti-life. I see how a huge promise made in front of all your friends may make it harder for both parties to back out. But like any wall, it also makes it harder for you to get out. What if he or she turns into a monster right after the marriage? What if you find out you’re not the one suited for married life, even though you asked for it?

    The other thing is that marriage is a cultural construct, not a natural phenomenon. We made it up. And, like tattoos and skinny hipster jeans, just ’cause everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it necessarily the right thing for you. Data shows that single women’s overall life satisfaction goes down after marriage (while that of men rises). You sure you want to sign up for that? Like the Buddha said, ehi passiko — go figure things out for yourself and see if it works for you.

    Which brings us to a letter about uncertainty:

    Hi Dr Ali — I told myself that all I really wanted was to just meet the guy and have fun so I messaged him last Wednesday and told him that I was free Saturday afternoon. He never replied. And for some unknown reason, and never having met the guy even, I’m absolutely heart broken.

    All I really wanted to do was to meet the guy and break this fantasy that I have of him in my head. Meeting him would have shown me that he is human, giving the infatuation less power. But now I am devastated because I don’t think I’ll get the chance to do that and I’m feeling awful. I’m regretting not talking to him at that event and really beating myself up for it to the point of it feeling painful. I’m upset that he wasn’t willing to follow through with asking me out and just disappearing. I know, it’s likely just a simple case of not being interested or even dating someone else, but I can’t help feeling as awful and sad as I do. I felt like you may have some words of wisdom for me, and actually being on my trip to do my rotation without my friends or family isn’t helping me much. — Lily the 24yr old med student from last time

    Well, Lily, one thing I know for sure: this is no longer about the guy, since he is nowhere near, and you haven’t even met him in person yet. So right now he is about as real as the spawn of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. What is very real is the misery you’re feeling right now. And since he’s not there, we know the exact address of the source of your pain: your own mind. This is a good time to learn how to run it so it serves you instead of running amok for the next 70 years. Three main suggestions:

    1) Meditate every day. If one good thing can come from this mediocre experience, it’s that it got you started on a lifelong practice that improved your existence more than anything else. So get meditating. Start with 2min a day, and extend it to 20min or beyond. If you don’t know how, get Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance (ebook and paperback) or the “Headspace” app. If you don’t start meditating, I’ll just assume that you prefer to feel miserable.
    2) Exercise. A run or yoga session will clear your head and expand your vision in a way to make this issue shrink to its proper tininess in the grand scheme of things.
    3) Practice self-compassion. This beating up on yourself needs to stop. I know it’s a pretty common practice nowadays, but it doesn’t make it any less weird or pathological. Also, which part of you is beating up on which? Are you slapping yourself in the face like Annette Bening in American Beauty? Is it the left hemisphere of your brain attacking the right? I’m asking these questions to illuminate the absurdity of beating up on yourself. Just stop and do crochet, street graffiti, skydiving — y’know, anything less detrimental and annoying.

    Prof Kristin Neff came up with the three elements of self-compassion:

    • Self-kindness: “Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism.”
    • Common humanity: “…Suffering and personal inadequacy is part of the shared human experience – something that we all go through rather than being something that happens to “me” alone.”
    • Mindfulness: “Mindfulness is a non-judgmental, receptive mind state in which one observes thoughts and feelings as they are, without trying to suppress or deny them.”

    On her website, she has some exercises you can try out. If what I’ve said to you about self-compassion so far speaks to you, the exercises can be life-changing. When you combine practices like meditation, exercise and self-compassion, you become resilient, like the reed that bends in the wind instead of breaking. And that is real security in the face of the flux of the world.

    I understand that change is hard, though. And even ideas that cognitively make a lot of sense — “Wow, I should totally do that!” — sometimes pass us by without making a lasting difference in our behavior. So for those of you interested in real change and tangible growth, I propose Project Irresistible. In it, we address some neglected but fundamental questions like, who are you, really? What’s your point for being on this Planet Earth? What are your most deeply held values? What are your goals vis-à-vis men and relationships? Do they mesh with those values? Are you ready for love? And that’s just the first two modules. Written exercises, listening assignments, guided meditations and real-world exercises get you expanding your envelope of existence to embrace a grander vision of you — and to manifest that in your daily behavior. The $100 off promotion is over, but you can still use coupon code “SPRINGY” for a $75 discount, which makes the price for the 6-week course less than a single session of therapy.

    And finally, to Lily and all the other ladies out there: the pain of being neglected and rejected is very, very real. Return people’s phone calls, texts, and emails, especially when it comes to romantic matters, even if it’s just to say “No thank you.” A clear “no” is a thousand times better than silence, which is perceived as “You’re not even worth a response.” As guys, we’re used to rejection, but the amount of infelicity and casualness in communications these days must be at an all-time high. Treat people the way you want to be treated, and be the change you want to see in the world.

    THERAPY THURSDAYS

    By popular request, I’ll be doing three therapy sessions per week via Skype on Thursdays. Time slots are 1pm, 2.30pm and 4pm Pacific Time. If you’re from a time zone where these slots are inconvenient, let me know and we’ll see what we can work out for you. Write to me directly and put “I want a session!” in the subject line, and include your PayPal address and Skype ID. $175 per 60min session.

    SPEAKING SCHEDULE

    Fri, May 6, online – “The New Way to Date” teleseminar series put on by my friend and colleague Alicia Ashley. Free to sign up and listen.

    Mon May 9, San Francisco, 6.30-8.30pm – “This Is How You Heal Yourself: Advanced Techniques for Overcoming Heartbreak, Phobias and Trauma.” I’m excited to bring some new techniques from recent trainings I’ve attended. This is powerful, effective, fun stuff. Location: Downtown San Francisco. Early bird tix are $45. Sign up here.

    Thu May 12, Los Angeles, 7pm – “This Is How You Heal Yourself.” Location not yet confirmed — if you know of a good spot, or if you are able to host 15-20 people in your office or living room, esp on the Westside, that would be super useful.

    Sat May 14, Los Angeles, 11am-5pm – I’ll be speaking at TEDx Echo Park: Paradigm Shift. My talk’s called “Happiness Engineering: A New Paradigm for Success.” TEDx events are usually fun, and I know a couple of the other speakers to be pretty cool. I’m scheduled to be the first talk. Tickets are $45 and available here. I’m not necessarily endorsing this event since I’m not putting it on. But do feel free to swing by if you’re local and the topic interests you.

    Go forth and conquer, Dr Ali

     

     

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  • Love Better, Present Better, and Perform Better Through Presence

    ***ANNOUNCEMENT: The next This Is How You Heal Yourself: Rewire Your Brain to Overcome Pain workshop is in San Francisco on Tuesday, 19 Jan 2016. I’ll be teaching you tools to get over heartbreak, phobias and trauma. Sign up here.***

    Here’s a story for you: just last month, my professional singer friend Valerie was terrified of her upcoming auditions because of crippling stage fright. Right about that time, I was fortunate to attend a talk by Amy Cuddy on her new book. Valerie couldn’t attend, so I gave her an advance copy of Presence (hardcover and ebook) that Amy had kindly given us. Valerie watched Amy’s TED talk, read half of the book, executed the “power pose” (i.e. expansive body postures like the “Wonder Woman” and the “Usain Bolt” held for 2min) and “self-affirmation of core values” techniques right before her auditions, and nailed ’em: three auditions, three gigs booked. And it all worked that fast.

    What would you say if I told you that there was an essential life skill that could make you a better speaker, help you nail job interviews, get you better dates, improve your performance, and make you a better partner and parent? What if I told you that no one has ever bothered to teach you this skill, mostly because we didn’t even know what it was? That secret skill is presence, “the state of feeling connected with our own thoughts, values, abilities, and emotions, so that we can better connect with the thoughts, values, abilities, and emotions of others.” And Amy Cuddy’s book can teach this state of “self-assured enthusiasm” to you and a whole lot more.

    People — this is life-changing stuff. We can all think of a time when (more…)

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  • How to Get Over a Breakup: Professional Edition

    I had a breakup recently. It sucked royally.

    Except that it wasn’t even a breakup. The woman just stopped returning my communications. Calls unanswered. Voicemails not returned. Texts unacknowledged. Emails languishing in a mailbox, gathering e-dust. Hell, I even wrote her a handwritten letter. Four pages long! Hadn’t done that in over 15 years. Still nothing.

    Breakups are never fun, but of all the ways one can be dumped, the disappearing act probably feels the worst. I mean, it’s one thing to say to my face that I’m a terrible boyfriend/husband/partner/lover and you can’t stand me anymore for reasons X, Y and Z, spurious or true. It’s a completely different thing to vanish completely. Because in the former case, the mind perceives it as rejection, which registers in the same part of the brain as a poke in the eye That pain is so similar to regular pain that it is ameliorated by acetaminophen (aka Tylenol, paracetamol). Bet you didn’t know that.

    But when someone goes poof, the brain perceives it as a death. So you don’t just experience the pain of rejection, which is bad enough already. You go into mourning.

    The disconcerting news is that this kind of thing seems to be happening with such frequency nowadays that it has a name: ghosting. How fucking terrifying is that?

    So lest anyone think that the existence of this word somehow legitimizes the practice, let me make this clear: ghosting is an act of violence. If you ghost on someone — especially someone with whom you until very recently used to share secrets, food, bed space and bodily fluids, and was basically decent to you — you are a horrible, terrible, awful human being. This is an act of omission that is very much an act of commission: you are leaving someone for dead. And nice people don’t do that.

    But I’m preaching to the choir here, because you’re probably reading this to recover from a breakup, not to inflict one. Well, you’ve come to the right place darlin’, because I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of these. I should know from breakups.

    There’s more that makes a breakup painful than the pain of rejection and mourning, however. You also come to (more…)

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  • How the Psychologist Found Love + Beta Testers Wanted for New Course + Birthday

    This last week was my birthday. I received a hundred or so messages from readers like you via my Facebook profile (to which I’d be delighted to add you should you wish to witness my miscellaneous ramblings), and another few hundred messages, texts and phone calls from friends and family. If you were one of them — thanks so much! By the end of the week, I was brimming with gratitude & joy from all of your kindness and support. This one below was one of the most heart-warming of all, and it wasn’t even sent for my birthday:

    “Hi Dr. Binazir! I don’t have a question, just a testimonial for your book (and I’ll add one on Amazon, too)! I read it about a year and a half ago after some unfortunate online dating experiences (I admit, you were right).

    weddingcake

    I’m a psychologist, but at times even the principles of therapy you provide for others just don’t sink in with regard to yourself. Your book really helped me with that, and I was able to let go of my desperate search for a partner. I think the things that helped the most were starting to attend a guided meditation practice, and using much of that time to focus on the principle of abundance. I really began to see my life as complete, and also kept my eyes and heart open.

    Almost the instant I reached and maintained a state of acceptance and peace, my friend happened to (more…)

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  • Matthieu Ricard on Altruism and Loving-Kindness (audio)

    Last week, I saw Matthieu Ricard give a talk about his new book Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change You and the World (hardcover, ebook and audiobook) in an event hosted by Soren Gordhamer and Wisdom 2.0. Ricard is an interesting fellow. After finishing his doctorate in molecular genetics in 1972 in the lab of Nobel-winning legend François Jacob, he promptly took off for a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the mountains of Nepal, where he has resided since. Subsequent to participating in a pioneering study by Richie Davidson from the University of Wisconsin on the effects of meditation on brain physiology, the media dubbed him “the happiest man in the world.”

    AltruismMatthieuRicard

    You know this is a man grounded in reality because he is quick to refute that label not out of modesty but from the simple fact that all of his fellow monks would do (and have done) equally well on measurements of their brain activity that could result in such a label. My inclination is to think that if you’ve put in the 50,000 hours of meditation that Ricard has, your brain is bound to manifest some unusual phenomena.

    Ricard is an exceptionally lucid and engaging speaker, even in English, which is not his native tongue. In fact, he’s so engaging that I hardly took any notes. Here is some of what he mentioned in his talk:

    • Happiness is not the constant seeking of pleasurable experiences. That can turn out to be quite exhausting.
    • One definition of happiness: not excluding anyone from your heart.
    • Constantly making the world about you — why did this happen to me, why are people mean to me, why am I so unlucky — you create the phenomenon of “the world arising as enemy.”
    • If you find meditation boring, it’s not the fault of the meditation.
    • The word “meditation” itself has little meaning. It’s a bit like saying “training” — what kind of training? Weightlifting? Running? Tennis?
    • In the same way that you can’t expect to play the harpsichord expertly without practice, you can’t expect to be an expert at compassion, altruism, mindfulness, gratitude without practice either.
    • Mindfulness by itself is not enough. You could have a mindful sniper or psychopath. You must add the caring component to it.

    At the request of the moderator, Ricard led us through a 4-part compassion meditation.

    1. First, you project loving-kindness to several people in sequence, from easy-to-love to very difficult.
    2. Then, you wish for a reduction of their suffering. This is the compassion component.
    3. Rejoice in the existence of all the other people also wishing for the reduction of suffering and taking an active part in it.
    4. Make impartial your projection of compassion and loving-kindness to all sentient beings, without preference or special allocation.

    I have adapted that into this 12min audio, which you can listen to here. The clinical effects of loving-kindness meditation on positive affect and psychological health are well-documented. Besides, it feels good. If you do not have a meditation practice yet, you may wish to consider trying this for starters.

    You may download the audio here.

    Ricard is currently touring the US to promote Altruism. He will make two stops in New York City next week — check his event calendar here. I urge you to go see him if you have the opportunity.

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