Drop the Stone

Drop the Stone

Is it heavy?

The Practice: 
Drop the Stone


As we begin a new year for many people, it’s natural to consider how to make it a good one. Besides taking action in the outer world – from fixing a dripping faucet to feeding every child – we can act inside our own minds . . . and take the benefits with us wherever we go. This year, what do you think are the top five things you can do inside yourself to be happier, stronger, wiser, and more loving?

In this JOT and those that follow, I’ll suggest my own top five:

  • Drop the stone
  • Let it flow
  • Learn as you go
  • “Us” all “thems”
  • Be Amazed

So, what do I mean by “drop the stone?”

Most of us are lugging around at least one thing that is a needless burden. Such as holding on to resentments, worrying over and over about the same thing, or trying to make someone love you who won’t. It’s like a load on your back, a weight in your hands, that you really don’t have to carry each day.

Perhaps it’s an unrealistic standard you keep failing to meet, an old quarrel you keep rehashing, or something addictive you can’t do in moderation, so you’re always thinking about it. Or maybe it’s an old shame, disappointment, or loss. Or perhaps a chronic tension in your body or armor around your heart. Or a rigid belief or righteous indignation.

I’m not suggesting we turn away from pain, stop caring about others, or avoid ambitious goals. It’s healthy to allow sadness, hurt, or worry to flow through your mind, and good to keep faith with yourself, bet on yourself, and dream big dreams.

But it’s stressful and harmful to get sucked into repetitive preoccupations, to keep looping multiple times around the same track. I heard that the great Tibetan teacher, Tsoknye Rinpoche, had once said essentially: “Thinking the same thought again is OK – but ten is enough!”

In your brain, negative preoccupations tend to engage the “default mode network” centered in the back half of the midline cortex. As this network evolved over millions of years, our ancestors used it as a simulator in which they could review past actions and imagine future possibilities, and thus learn from their mistakes and make good plans. But when the simulator uses you, it’s more like a “ruminator” in which you are trapped, feeling bad, and reinforcing negative neural circuits.

Instead, it’s OK to step out of the movie inside and OK to drop the load.

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Pick one “stone” you’d like to drop this year (and you can repeat this process with other things if you like). First, decide for yourself what if anything is reasonable or useful about it. Know in your heart what is worth taking into account . . . and what is just needless worthless excess suffering. Know that you are and can be a good person without pouring rocks on your head.

Second, for a few seconds or longer, deliberately “carry” that stone – think about it, worry about it, get sad or mad about it – so you can really know what that feels like.

Third, try to be very aware of when that particular weight comes back. Regular mindfulness practice can help. Building up the trait of steady present-moment awareness is like strengthening what’s called a “strange attractor” in complex systems theory. This kind of attractor is like a planet inside your mind, whose gravitational force pulls you naturally in a good direction. The greater your trait mindfulness is, the more you’ll stay grounded in it and the faster you’ll return to it if you get distracted.

Fourth, resolve to yourself to stop picking up the stone. Determine to disengage from it, to stop allying with it and getting hijacked by it. It may keep mumbling away in the background, but at least you can stop adding to its weight.

Be strong inside your own mind. In much the same way that you could step back from someone who’s being harmful, you can step back from old habit patterns. It’s OK to build muscularity inside, with a sense of healthy entitlement to reasonable well-being: “No, I don’t have to keep listening to and agreeing with that voice inside my head!”

Shift your attention to other things, ideally those that are the opposite in some way to the “stone.” Such as forgiving yourself for old shame, or turning toward healthy pleasures and away from unhealthy ones, or seeing the big picture of everything that’s working if you’ve gotten preoccupied with something that’s not. With repetition, these new objects of attention will grow like “attractors” where you increasingly dwell.

Last, let yourself feel and know that this is life is precious and short – even if it lasts a hundred years. In the long run, what will those stones matter? Imagine what it will feel like to lay your stones down. Tell yourself it’s OK to do this. Tell other people it’s OK for them to lay down their own stones.

As you shed your stones, feel the lightness that comes, the room in your heart for good things. Like growing flowers of inner peace, self-worth, ease, inner freedom, an unburdened and undivided mind, and love.

Know Someone Who Could Lay Down a Stone?

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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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