Back to Basics

Back to Basics

What’s fundamental?

The Practice:
Back to Basics.

Why?

In middle school, I thought it would be cool to play a musical instrument and picked the clarinet. My wise parents rented one rather than buying it, and I started practicing. (In the garage because it sounded pretty screechy.) After a week or two of doing scales, I got bored and picked my way through a couple easy songs. But after a few more weeks, I couldn’t go further because I hadn’t laid a foundation with scales and similar exercises – so I quit in frustration. To this day, I regret never learning to play a musical instrument.

I and others tend to skip over the fundamentals for a variety of reasons, including impatience, laziness, or a kind of arrogance that thinks we can sort of get away with not paying our dues. There’s also the subtle impact of our media, which showcases celebrities who seem to spring out of thin air – though actually it took years for them to become an overnight success.

But when we don’t take care of the fundamentals, the foundation is shaky for whatever we’ve built: a relationship, a career, personal well-being, spiritual practice – or playing the clarinet. Perhaps we can get away with this for awhile, but there’s usually a background cost in uneasiness, waiting for a day of reckoning, perhaps with the sense of being an imposter. And eventually, when a real challenge comes, the building shakes and maybe topples.

On the other hand, when you handle the basics, the cornerstones, you feel like you’re on solid ground. Even if things don’t turn out perfectly, in your heart you know you had the humility and conscientiousness to honor the prerequisites, the essential requirements, the bedrock of the matter.

How?

First, know what is basic for you – since this will differ from person to person. Here are some potential “basics” for you to consider; they’re just a start, and please add your own! Use the list that results to see if anything pops out to address:

  • Relationships – No actual or threatened violence; respect for personal autonomy; no crazy behavior; no meanness
  • Childrearing – Lots of love; real time for family; aspirational values (e.g., help out, be honest, do your job in school); reasonable parental authority
  • Job – Getting to work on time; fully competent with core skills; feeling alright with the people around you; having the resources to fulfill responsibilities
  • Physical health – Good sleep; veggies, protein, and vitamins; exercise; minimal intoxicants; take care of issues as early as you can
  • Mental health – On your own side; stepping back to observe your mind; calming down stress and upsets; take in the good of positive experiences; self-compassion; exercising restraint
  • Situations – Take a moment to consider one or more specific situations, such as an ongoing issue with someone in your life or at work, or with your health, career, or finances. Open to listening to the “still small voice inside” that may tell you about a basic thing you could care for better; it may well be something you’ve known all along.

Now, the second step. Perhaps one or more things have come to mind after you’ve done the reflection above. Pick one this week and act upon it.

In your mind, getting back to something basic means: giving it your attention; acknowledging in your heart, your emotions, that it’s important; committing honestly to it; and making a plan about it.

Out in the world, taking care of something basic means doing something differently. It could be as down-to-earth and modest as not watching TV past 10 pm so you can get to bed at a reasonable time, or flossing your teeth each day, or not interrupting your partner, or getting home from work by 6:00 for dinner with the kids.

Then, third step: Open to appreciating the benefits to you and others of honoring and handling this fundamental thing, whatever it is. Let the felt sense of its rewards, its goodness, keep drawing you toward continuing to take good care of it.

When we take care of the basics, everything else usually takes care of itself.



Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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