Bless

Bless

Wishing well?

The Practice:
Bless.

Why?

Lately, I’ve been wondering what would be on my personal list of top five practices (all tied for first place). You might ask yourself the same question, knowing that you can cluster related practices under a single umbrella, your list may differ from mine, and your practices may change over time.

In these JOTs, so far I’ve written about two of my top practices:

  • Meditate – Mindfulness, training attention, contemplation, concentration, absorption, non-ordinary consciousness, liberating insight
  • Take in the good (in three chapters excerpted from my book, Just One Thing) – Recognize the brain’s negativity bias (Velcro for the bad, Teflon for the good), see good facts in the world and in yourself, be intimate with your experience, have and enrich and absorb positive experiences (turning mental states into neural traits, good moments into a great brain), let positive soothe and replace negative

My third practice is bless, which means see what’s tender and beautiful, and wish well. (For some, this word has religious connotations, but I’m not using it that way; for more on this subject, see my free video series on the Compassionate Brain.) Blessing includes compassion, kindness, appreciating, honoring, non-harming, warmth, cherishing, and love; you can see I’m using this word broadly. It’s leaning toward pain rather than away, helping rather than harming, giving rather than withholding, opening and extending rather than closing and contracting, wishing well rather than ill, delighting in rather than finding fault. You can bless others, the world, and yourself – and any parts of any of these.

Blessing is obviously good for others and the world, and that’s plenty reason to offer it. As a bonus, it’s also good for you. It strengthens gratitude and gladness, opens your heart, deepens connection, and tends to evoke good treatment from others. You experience people and the world as blessed rather than threatening, disappointing, or rejecting. By blessing, you feel blessed.

How?

Deliberately feel warmly toward someone while wishing him or her well – that he or she not suffer, and be truly happy. Also be aware of a benevolence toward others, looking for good things in them. Use this to know what the act and the attitude of blessing feels like, and to take in the experience of it so you can call upon it in the future.

To bless someone, see their goodness, efforts, hopes, suffering, and what’s neat about them. Let yourself be touched, moving past the idea and the should of blessing to the experience itself. Feel a warmth, a kindness. You can express good wishes with actions – a touch, a door opened, a charitable gift – or words (e.g., “may you be at peace, may you be loved”), or inside your heart alone.

Blessing means not harming, hurting, criticizing, or dismissing; if any of these is present, blessing isn’t. Don’t let blessing feed a subtle superiority, the bless-er who is better than the bless-ee. Let others be who they are, and don’t presume you know what they need. In the moment of true blessing, there’s little if any sense of self, of I-me-mine. You bless for them, not for yourself.

Bless people you know, and also bless strangers. It’s powerful to look at someone passing on the street, get a sense of the person, and then wish him or her well. See what happens when you bless people who have really helped you, friends and family, even people who are difficult for you. See what it’s like to deliberately offer compassion, kindness, prizing, or love. You can also bless parts of yourself – your pain, your darkness, your light – as well as yourself as a whole.

Do blessing deliberately. And over time, be blessing. It becomes where you come from, your ground and natural inclination.

You can be pressed and stressed and still bless. Find your warmth and good wishes amidst the mental clutter, like hearing wind chimes outside amidst storm and rain. But also take care of yourself. It’s hard to bless if you feel bad. Blessing does not mean approving; you can wish people well while also disengaging from them.

Fundamentally, blessing means treating another person as a “thou” not an “it,” not a means to your ends. Think of “thou” as a verb. To bless people is to thou them.



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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