Meditation + Talk: Taking Life Less Personally

Meditation + Talk: Taking Life Less Personally

This Wednesday Night Meditation included a 34-minute meditation and 52-minute talk and discussion about Taking Life Less Personally.

I hope you find it helpful, and you are welcome to join my free Wednesday Meditations – open to everyone!

Meditation: Taking Life Less Personally

Talk: Taking Life Less Personally

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Generosity itself is a beautiful practice that opens and gladdens the heart, relaxes the contraction of “self,” and ripples out into the world to touch many people – and perhaps, eventually, even oneself.

Additionally, many expressions of generosity are not about money. People offer attention, encouragement, and patience many times a day. Sometimes we withhold when it would be so easy, actually, to listen quietly for another minute or to offer a word of appreciation or simply a look that says, “I’m with you.” Try being a little more generous for a day and see what happens.

Taking Life Less Personally Talk (download transcript here)

Rick Hanson [00:00:00] I’m glad you’re here. I hope that meditation was helpful. I think meditations can be placed kind of on a spectrum. And in terms of maybe challenge, maybe advanced? And I think of that as a pretty advanced meditation. If you can start to have a sense of being and more of a sense of thoughts are occurring, sounds are occurring, sensations are occurring, images are appearing, all that’s happening in a way that feels more impersonal, more spacious, more just the product of a vast fabric of causes and conditions that are manifesting locally in this moment of consciousness, you know, that’s something to be able to settle into that. And hopefully you were you were able to do that or hopefully I was able to kind of guide you into that. And in any case, as we deepen in the sense of being, we become more able to do effectively with less friction, less tension. I was just reflecting recently that, to me, you know, kind of a key point, a kind of summary teaching is to be engaged in life without clinging, without that problematic squeezing, or possessing, or, you know, fighting against, holding on that gets us in trouble and in trouble with other people. Anyway, so that’s kind of a bit of a context here.

[00:01:43] And I want to tell two stories, one from the Chinese tradition of Taoism and even maybe preceding Taoism. And then I want to give you a little bit of a story about driving with my long-suffering wife. So the first story is the parable of the log, and I’ve updated this story a bit for the present moment. So imagine two scenarios, and you may have read this from me or heard me tell this story before. In one scenario, you’re going out for, let’s say, a Sunday picnic with your friend and you decided to get a little boat like a little canoe, let’s say, a little canoe. And you got all dressed up for it and you made some really special food. And here you are with your friend and it’s a beautiful day and you’re just slowly drifting along on the river and everything’s going fine. Suddenly, there’s a loud thump on the side of your canoe and it tips over and you’re dumped in the cold water. And you come up sputtering, your hair’s ruined, your clothes are wrecked, you brought grandma’s silver along with you for the special picnic, and it’s at the bottom of the river now. And what do you see? What do you see? You see two teenagers with snorkels and fins laughing and laughing because they are the ones who have tipped over your canoe. How do you feel?

[00:03:13] And now take two. Same scenario. Everything’s the same. You’re in the river, Sunday, in a canoe. It’s all wonderful. Grandma silver is there and your picnic basket. Loud thump on the side of the canoe. Boom. You’re dumped into the river. Come up cold. You’re wet. You’re shocked. Whoa, what do you see? You see a giant submerged log has drifted downstream, bumped into your canoe and dumped you into the river. How do you feel now? And how do you feel in the second scenario compared to the first one?

[00:03:54] In the first one, you might have a sense of taking it very personally that these kids targeted you. In the second scenario, the objective conditions are the same. They’re just the same. You’re wet, you’re cold, you know, you’ve lost important things. And it’s an impersonal process. You may you, do have, to deal with being dumped into the river. And in the future, you might keep an eye out more for logs and you might even choose different rivers that are less prone to having logs come downstream and bonk you. OK. But the underlying sense of taking it personally, of personalizing the event rather than seeing it as a bunch of impersonal causes and conditions unfolding helps it become much less upsetting. Right? And you’re much less caught up in aggravating rumination afterward by not taking it so personally. And here’s the deal. Much of what bumps up into us in life, including other people, is essentially just logs launched yesterday or a year from yesterday based on many, many causes and conditions, upstream of this moment, appearing now right in front of you. And when we start to see so many things as like logs rather than, you know, missiles that are locked on target and coming after you, just you, right, then we’re less afflicted by all these secondary, second darts, as the Buddha put it, secondary reactions to impersonal conditions. As we talked earlier in the kind of informal casual start to the formal beginning of our evening, I shared the the story from Yunmen, wonderful Zen Master roughly a thousand years ago, who described living, to summarize and simplify, as like having a body continually exposed in the golden wind. We are exposed to so many winds. Shanti Deva, the great Tibetan adept, talked about the eight worldly winds, pleasure and pain, gain and loss, fame and ill repute, praise and blame. And interestingly, half of these worldly winds involve other people. And yet our opportunity is to recognize the things that land on us, whether they come in the form of winds or logs or other people as like winds. Right? They’re just, they’re happening in our life and we don’t have to take it so personally.

[00:06:51] So here’s a second little story as I promised. And involved my long-suffering wife. So I grew up in L.A. I’ve been driving for a long time since 16 and drive a lot and I think reasonably skillfully and briskly, definitely briskly. So my wife, Jan, sweet, is more cautious than I am, probably in many ways, and I would have the experience often with her that I thought I was driving perfectly well down the highway, on the freeway, let’s say father back than, you know, 80 percent of the cars on the road near me at least, 90 percent, probably. And yet she was clutching the handrail all the time and her foot was on the floor pushing an imaginary brake. I took it personally. My parents were both loving, but they were definitely critical in different ways. And I learned to drive with my dad and I started driving with his car, which had a stick shift, and I probably blew out the, you know, the thing, I forget, that’s like the buffer as it were when you’re shifting gears. And so, you know, he was pretty critical. And so I had that charge with me, that tendency to take things personally. And now my wife, many years later, who arguably may not drive actually as skillfully as I do, but in any case was being critical. And I thought about it, you know. Do I really have to take this personally? Am I doing anything really wrong? Not particularly. Do I have to believe what she’s communicating? Not necessarily. On the other hand. Can I have compassion for her? Can I recognize some of the many causes and conditions operating in her life? Just how she is as a person, her own depth perception, let’s say, other kinds of factors, I can take those into account and respond skillfully to them without having to take on board what feels like a personal critique. And then as a result, I’ve kind of shifted my driving style. She calls it Driving Miss Daisy. That’s the style I need to adopt, and I try to maintain that style most, if not all, of the time with her. And I’m aided in doing that by not taking it so personally.

[00:09:15] So how can we do this? How can we not take things so personally in ways that are problematic? I’ve got a few suggestions. First, definitely recognize it when people are targeting you personally. Very important here. They’re targeting you based on bias, prejudice, maybe they’re targeting you in a way that’s exploitive, abusive, perhaps sociopathic. They’re targeting you because you are the kind of means they want to their ends. Really recognizing that and not being naive or foolish or childlike about it, like you just don’t want to believe it. No. Recognizing the truth of it. That’s very important. I want to really call that out from the get go and kind of carve it out, as it were, something very important. And I’m going to be talking about other kinds of things.

[00:10:17] Second, interestingly, we’re much more able to take things less personally when we take really good care of ourselves as persons. In other words, when we help ourselves eat reasonably well over the course of a day in simple, appropriate ways, when we help ourselves get some sleep, when we help ourselves have pleasure and enjoyment and good feeling in ways that are nurturing and wholesome, when we take care of ourselves in that way, when we gradually help ourselves internalize whatever is actually available to us in forms of respect and appreciation, friendliness, caring, compassion, even love from other people, we take that in, we fill ourselves up. If we take care of ourselves personally by looking for appropriate ways to contribute, to manifest, to actualize qualities that we have, gifts that we may have, talents we may have passions, values, things we really care about, when we take care of ourselves in those ways. When we take care of our physical health, we get frequent checkups as we possibly can when we, you know, get the best care we can out of the medical system and so forth. When we do these kinds of things, then when others land on us, it feels like we have more, you know, buffers built up. We have more of a clutch pad, the term I was searching for from 50 years ago or more of learning to drive, you know, when we have a kind of an internal clutch pad inside us, that’s a buffer between us and the world, we don’t, then, we’re not so readily triggered into taking things so personally.

[00:12:12] And it’s kind of paradoxical. I see a lot of people in the spiritual world, in the mindfulness world, and so forth, for whom it’s kind of a taboo to treat themselves well or to get on their own side or to deliberately reach for and internalize healthy social supplies, including praise and respect and recognition from other people. They somehow think, oh, I should give that to others and they should receive it from me. But oh, it’s not for me to receive it from them. Well, that’s wrong. That’s wrong Dharma. And it’s important to receive for ourselves, both out of general principles of kindness and also frankly, out of a clear eyed, pragmatic strategy that as I fill up my own cup, one of the many benefits is I’m more able to not take things so personally. So that’s a second real key here.

[00:13:06] The third thing is with other people when they are bumping into you and it does look like that some of that was intentional. They really did do it on purpose. They’re not entirely log-like in that sense. It can be really helpful to slow it down and to draw upon the Buddha’s profound teaching echoed now in modern quantum mechanics and deep ecology to tease apart, to deconstruct, to disentangle the many factors, the many threads that formed the knot as it were, K-N-O-T, knot of whatever it was that bumped into you or landed on you or was propelled your way from that other person. In other words, to try to get a sense of slow it down, air it out. Like what led them to do that? What were some of the factors in them, their personality, their biology, their underlying health issues, their history, their trauma, their parents, their grandparents, their culture? You know? The causes and factors and influences the winds that have blown through their life, including maybe some of them involving you that have swirled together to produce that storm that landed on you. And when we step back and look at people in this way in, you know, in which we’re recognizing in the technical term the emptiness of what has come at you, it’s there. The thoughts are there. The actions are there. The behaviors are there. But they’re there more spaciously, more emptily, more dependently upon many, many causes and conditions. We’re recognizing people then, you know, to use an image that really has worked for me, more as clouds and less as bricks. We, rather than reacting to something that seems oh so solid and weighty when we’re upset about it, understandably, but rather than reacting to it, which then often gets us into trouble, right, and also makes us suffer, we step back and we go, aha, this is more like a cloud of various crud, you know, that’s come at me. And by disentangling it into its elements and recognizing its emptiness, I don’t have to take it so personally. I need to deal with it as an event. I need to deal with that there is a log there, there’s a critique of your driving there, there’s someone who betrayed you there, there’s someone who attacked you there, there’s someone who smiled to your face and badmouthed you behind your back. It’s there. No doubt it’s there to be dealt with. But if we’re less triggered personally than we’re typically much more able to deal with it objectively, impersonally, based on the actual substantive issues on the table, rather than getting caught up in feeling that we’ve been personally wounded, without getting indignant or aggrieved or vengeful toward that other person. Regarding them in that way.

[00:16:57] Another thing that can help, and then I’m going to open it up to particulars, to questions and maybe talk with some people because I think that these more potentially abstract ideas, teachings, can, you know, they float around, but it helps to bring them down to Earth. So I’m going to be shifting in that direction and in a moment here. All right? Another thing, to finish, that I think can help us to not take things so personally is to clarify for ourselves based on whatever has happened with that other person, the thing that has landed on us, what our plan is going forward. This relates to what I just said a moment ago about, yeah, we have to deal with the log. If we don’t know what our plan is, we don’t have a settled view privately, quietly, internally in the core of our being about what we see and what we care about, you know, then we’re going to be much more vulnerable to taking it personally. If we don’t have a kind of plan that gives us some likelihood of not being bonked by the log yet again tomorrow, if we don’t have that kind of plan, then again, it’s harder not to take it personally. So forming a plan and knowing how you’re going to protect yourself and those others you care about who maybe are also being impacted here, knowing how you’re going to protect yourself and what you’re actually going to do can help you release the biologically based, evolutionarily constructed contraction of the sense of self. All right? We contract in to a sense of self, typically, when we feel attacked, when fear is arising. We also tend to contract when there’s something we really want that we feel frustrated about or we can’t get. And we also tend to contract here into the self, when we feel personally discounted or criticized or betrayed by another person. So understandably, this is where the contraction of self arises. So if we want to release that contraction into wisdom and a greater spaciousness in the process of our own ultimate awakening, if we want to do that, then pragmatically, it helps to make a plan for how you’re going to deal with that threat or that frustration, frustrating impediment to the achievement of important goals, and how you’re going to deal with those other people who are being critical or untrustworthy towards you. Making a plan. All right. That’s a lot.

[00:20:04] You may be using the chat side bar along the way, just to say it if—you may have heard me say before. If you do use the chat, please focus on your own personal practice and stay away from advising or criticizing other people. And if you don’t want to use the chat sidebar, it’s distracting, just push the chat button at the bottom of your screen and the chat side bar will go away. All right, I’m going to scan the chat sidebar now and see—there are things you can see that other people say publicly. And also I can see things that come to me privately. If you want to talk with me live, be aware that other people are going to see it. When we post the recordings we take out of the faces of the people I’m talking with and we just have their voices alone. And also, by the way, to be clear, when we come to the end of our formal program, I turn off the recording and then those who want usually 60 to 80 or so people stick around for voluntary optional breakout rooms in Zoom for discussion with four or five other people. OK, so let me just see what’s here. Great. Great.

[00:21:20] Well, so someone has asked me a question. It’s great question, clear. How is it impersonal when someone chooses to inflict something on someone, you know, you or someone else? In other words, they’re targeting. It’s a great question. It’s personal in the sense that, yeah, they picked you out of the crowd and went after you. Or, yeah, it’s personal in the sense that you’re living with them or working with them. You did something. You said something. Something happened and they’re reading you the riot act about it. They’re on your case about it. You betcha. In some sense, it’s coming to this person you are, clear. On the other hand can we regard what has happened in a more impersonal way from like a bird’s eye view? All right? It did target a particular person, Rick or Mary, let’s say. Yes. But can we see what happened as a larger process that’s caused by many things, including that person’s negative intentions towards you? Yeah, that’s true. And also, there are many other causes. And see what happens. You don’t have to do it. But see what happens when you adopt this more big picture birds eye many threads forming the tapestry of the present moment kind of perspective. What happens then for you?

[00:22:55] And also now on the receiving end, can you be aware of the contracted sense of self, me, mine, I that gets in the mix in response to events? And can you find a way, and this is really useful and important, can you find a way to respond appropriately to what’s occurred as the whole of yourself, as the whole person you indeed are with less and less ego involved, less and less defensiveness, vanity, less and less narcissistic vulnerability, less and less of that? It may arise, but you can be less and less identified with it and those aspects of the self-contraction can be simply other thoughts, other feelings, other sensations, other sounds, just other flotsam and jetsam flowing along in the stream of consciousness, passing through awareness on their way out. That’s kind of the opportunity in the question.

[00:24:10] So one more from the chat. And then if you want to talk with me personally, just raise your hand and you can find the hand button if you go to the reactions smiley face at the bottom of the Zoom window. Push that button and then you’ll raise your hand and hopefully I’ll have a chance to talk with you. I may not be able, I probably won’t be able to get to all kinds of people, everybody. I can see a lot of hands already. I’m going to tend to pick people I from memory haven’t talked with before, but hopefully I’ll be able to get to everybody. All right. Let’s see. Lots of good points. You can see the points that are coming in the side bar. They’re really excellent. Let’s see. OK. Really excellent. I’m going to shift to—so let’s see, I’ll just start with you, Lillian. I don’t know if we’ve spoken before. I’m asking you to unmute. Hi, there. You have to unmute yourself now.

Lillian [00:25:18] Hi, Rick.

Rick Hanson [00:25:19] Hey, there. Great. Glad. All right, so I say this, everybody, if you’re asking a question, please keep it succinct, to the point, and related to what I’m talking about tonight. OK.

Lillian [00:25:32] I put a question in the chat, so I don’t know if you’ve seen that.

Rick Hanson [00:25:37] Do you know what time it was when it came in?

Lillian [00:25:39] Just a minute ago.

[00:25:40] OK. All right. Other people can see it.

Lillian [00:25:45] Four questions at the beginning of the—

Rick Hanson [00:25:47] OK. I see it. Great. 7:09 p.m.

Lillian [00:25:51] So I really wanted to see you live tonight because this has really been troubling me, and I’m not positive it’s on topic, but it does have the same energy of, you know, the teenagers hitting my boat because my, our legislators are not serving humanity, in my view. I apologize if I’m not, you know, I don’t really want to raise politics. What I want help with specifically is I have vowed not to abandon hope, partly because in your teachings, I’ve heard you talk about there are so many people doing so many good things all over the world. Poverty is being reduced, all of that. But I’m struggling in this moment with the despair of racial injustice that’s gone on for 400 years. Is it possible that the work we’re doing currently can shift humanity? Or there’s this temptation to give up on humanity that can be so cruel to one another or so thoughtless to our planet. So what I really want is in my meditation sits, is there a way to strengthen the causes and conditions that would undergird hope and, yeah. So how can I cultivate hope to support taking steps in my life that move forward.

Rick Hanson [00:27:45] That’s a beautiful question. And I’m sure it’s one that many, many people can relate to certainly. And I think there are different kinds of answers to it, and I’ll just offer, if I could, kind of intimately what’s worked for me. And I’m not sure it will work, you know, for everybody, but it’s definitely, it’s helped me. The first is I draw on this teaching from Ajahn Chah, a grade root teacher in the insight tradition of Buddhism from Thailand. And he made the essential point that we can water a fruit tree, we can tend to the causes, but we cannot make it give us an apple. We cannot force the results. So the question then becomes, and the moral responsibility, and the standard for us to live by is not so much the results, but rather our efforts. The sincerity of our efforts, the continuity of our efforts, the skillfulness, the openness to learning to becoming even more effective in our efforts. That’s the real question. And so we can take refuge, and I take refuge in my efforts. So at the political level or the, we could say politically situated level, which starts very locally, right, and then spreads out, am I doing what I can myself in my own circle of influence? Am I tending to the causes there? Am I treating others with respect? Am I being an ally? Am I doing what I can to become more effective? Do I have the courage to have the humility to recognize my own privilege, my own advantages, which by definition are occurring through disadvantaging others, including both in the present and, you know, over many, many centuries? All those kinds of things. So that’s one thing right there.

[00:29:49] And I don’t know ultimately what the fruits will be. But I do have a lot of hope and confidence in knowing my own heart, you can know your own good heart, and in knowing the efforts that I’m making. I think a lot of people gnash and wail, and I get it, understandably about, are we, you know, just the craziness. On the other hand, another thing that I personally kind of sit in as a perspective is to take the long view and to appreciate looking back at humanity, how bad it’s been for many, many people. If there is a lottery and a person can, you know, play the odds of any human birth over the last three hundred thousand years in any part of the world and, you know, you could either just spin the wheel or you could choose your own incarnation or someone a lot like you and your next birth, what would you pick? I think most people, for all of its challenges, would pick this time in human history, and they would take their chances on this time in human history compared to even ten years ago, so certainly a hundred and ten or a thousand and ten or a hundred thousand and ten years ago. So that kind of thing really, really does help me. So maybe I’ll just leave it there because I really want to keep focusing on not taking things so personally. You know, Leonard Cohen, right? You know his lines. Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. Right? We have so little control. I feel like a sports fan in a sense who is deeply loyal to a particular team, and I really want them to prevail because of my values and because of my view about reality. That said, I’m not on the field, I’m not the coach, I’m not the trainers in the weight room, I’m not bringing them towels. I’m not on the field. I’m certainly not in the owner’s box. I’m not choosing the players. All I can do is root and hope that my team, you know, does a better job this season. That’s all I could do. And I try not to get too too crazy about, you know, more than that. Anyway, I’ll leave it there. And others may have some further wisdom, too.

[00:32:16] OK, so I want to go on now. Where’s Karen Herzog? Do you still have your hand up, Karen? No you took it away. OK, so Ling Lee, I’m going to ask you to unmute yourself. Okay, great. And again, like I said, be succinct and focused on our topics tonight. Thanks. OK. Ling Lee, Hello.

Ling Lee [00:32:37] Hey Rick. Thank you so much for giving me this opportunity to share a little bit. I just feel empowered to ask this question and what comes up to me when you talk about like the third piece of not to take things personally is when other people discount us or something. Like I had experienced reaction with my mom and I became very sensitive of how she would respond to me. And the work that I did it was I noticed that I care so much that she criticized me because there is much of me, I care very much how she sees me. It’s like I put a little piece of me in her.

Rick Hanson [00:33:33] Very insightful. Good for you.

Ling Lee [00:33:35] And that part she has power to change. And the work that I did is kind of eventually to take that part back towards me. And I kind of wanted almost to check with you to see what it means to take that back.

Rick Hanson [00:33:55] Hmm. Well, I think that’s very insightful on your part. And you know, you’re talking to a long time psychotherapist and someone who’s done a lot of therapy on himself as well. And how I hear you talking about it is that you are making your sense of worth less dependent upon her view of you, her approval or disapproval. So your decoupling. So you’re, in effect, you placed your worth in her hands and then if she squeezes it, you’re in pain. And in effect, you’re reaching into her hands and you’re pulling your heart back and you’re returning it to your own chest.

Ling Lee [00:34:40] Yeah.

Rick Hanson [00:34:41] Right? So she may squeeze, but it doesn’t hurt your heart so much anymore. Because it’s now back inside you.

Ling Lee [00:34:50] Yeah. Yeah. That’s—I noticed that like it happened often like with someone that I have attachment with. And of course more with my mother.

Rick Hanson [00:35:08] Yeah. Of course. Yeah. And, you know, it’s like with a parent or with someone else, we can get to a healthy point where we want to be open to them and, you know, be responsive according to our own code, to their grievances, or maybe they have a good idea about how it could be a better person in some way or just make, you know, food a little better. But mostly we just, it’s like a breeze, it’s like the wind, you know, Shanti Deva’s wind. It’s wind, it’s there. Maybe it’s an unpleasant wind, but we don’t have to get caught up in our reactions to it. I find that very beautiful. And I wish you well at this, Ling Lee, you know, you’re on a good path here. And that’s good. OK. Is that OK? All right. Great. Bows back to you.

[00:36:07] So I’m really hoping to be able to get to everybody. So I’m going to go to Richard’s iPhone, then bounce to Madison, and then hopefully be able to speak with Catherine and Jean. OK, great. So, Richard, I’m asking you to unmute. Great. You can unmute yourself.

Richard [00:36:27] Thanks, Rick.

Rick Hanson [00:36:33] It’s good. I can hear—I see you’re talking and your unmuted, but I can’t hear you. Good. Yeah. Richard? Richard, this is a bad connection. So, you know what, I’d like you to do? Contact me through the contact form on my website and I’ll reply to you specifically. OK?

Richard [00:37:03] No, I couldn’t help but feel—

Rick Hanson [00:37:19] Ddid you hear what I said, Richard, about—yeah. Just contact me or you can contact me, if you could, with the contact form on my website. OK, good. All right. So Catherine, I’m going to ask you to unmute yourself. Great. Thank you.

Catherine [00:37:37] Hi.

Rick Hanson [00:37:38] Hey.

Catherine [00:37:38] Thanks. Thank you. I just found you from a client of mine recommended me, and it’s really helping me a lot to come to your meditations.

Rick Hanson [00:37:46] Oh, good.

Catherine [00:37:48] So I’ve done a lot of inner work too, but I still have a hard time taking things personally. Basically, the thing I have the most trouble with is growing up with narcissistic parents and then still feel like a magnet for them in life. And I don’t know, like, I get the logic that this isn’t my issue and I don’t have to put up with that behavior. I can protect myself, distance, but there’s still this sense like why do they keep picking me? You know? And that’s what I find hard to shake. And I think a lot of other people find that hard to shake to, right?

Rick Hanson [00:38:26] Well, let me make sure I get this. OK? So—and I think to generalize it, I suspect this could be relevant to a lot of people, actually. If I follow you right, you’re saying you grew up with parents who are very narcissistic, self-absorbed, you know, and maybe have a hard time with empathy, tend to use other people as means to their ends, don’t admit fault. Got it. OK. And then you’re saying that even now as an adult, many years later, you seem to attract people who are themselves narcissistic, self-absorbed, don’t have much room for you, et cetera, et cetera, you know, OK. Yeah. Well, one thing that I’m sure you can relate to this as a therapist is that we tend to operate with people in a script-like way in which there’s a certain basic script that actors may change, but the plot line remains very familiar and we get cast into certain roles. And so it could be—and here’s the part that may relate to other people—that wonderful qualities in you, your good heart, your openness, the empathy you tend to give, the sense of nurturance from you, your integrity, you’re a trustworthy person, you’re not going to casually damage other people, it’s your virtues in a funny way that they are really good at discerning and then unconsciously or consciously they start to exploit.

Catherine [00:40:10] Yeah. OK.

Rick Hanson [00:40:11] Amidst other more impersonal processes in there, they’re complicated, probably, and they have their own wounds and so forth. And isn’t that interesting? I saw you kind of take that in there that  sometimes it’s the best in ourselves that get us drawn into these scripts with other people. And so to me, a key possibility is to appreciate the truth to the extent it’s true in what I said that it’s your virtues, it’s the warmth of your fire that they want to sit next to. And—

Catherine [00:40:47] I think so too. But I still have a hard time shaking this feeling like, I don’t know it, maybe it’s I feel like I’ve worked forever on parents issues and abuse. And it still never quite goes away. I don’t see it as like, Oh, it’s because I have these great qualities that they like. For some reason, I feel like no they think I’m, I don’t know, a vulnerable, weak sucker or something. I don’t know.

Rick Hanson [00:41:16] So you’re taking it personally there, yeah.

Catherine [00:41:18] Yeah, exactly.

Rick Hanson [00:41:19] So one, why do you blame yourself for their behavior? Now you might want to prod yourself a bit to exercise more of an early warning system.

Catherine [00:41:32] Yeah.

Rick Hanson [00:41:33] Because you of all, people should be able to recognize this kind of character coming at you, right? So, you know, maybe there’s something there about prodding yourself a little to have better boundaries, to have earlier warning, and to not get sucked into whatever old habits of relating or old gratifications from being needed or important or the one for this other person. You know, narcissism, there’s a lot of valuing devaluing. You know, first they put you up, then they knock you down. In that early phase of getting put up, you know, you might want to obviously be aware potentially of any gratification there. So there are the kinds of things maybe to prod yourself about and help yourself to be freer, but without being harsh with yourself. It’s not your fault. You know? You have wonderful qualities and you kind of learn basic ways of being and OK.

Catherine [00:42:33] Yeah, thanks. That’s helpful. Thank you.

Rick Hanson [00:42:36] Yeah. And focus on what is under your control. What’s the fruit tree you actually can water? Which is to recognize people like this sooner. Establish boundaries quicker. Being willing to tolerate the discomfort, maybe of, you know, their hurts or criticisms of you. You know, call yourself to that. That’s what you can call yourself to and then judge yourself accordingly. But I think a lot in life, maybe to generalize, we judge ourselves according to the wrong standards, and we don’t judge ourselves enough according to the right standards.

Catherine [00:43:15] I think it’s hard when you grow up with parents like, you know, the last person mentioned her mother too. It’s—feels like a lifetime to recuperate from a parent that doesn’t see you. You know?

Rick Hanson [00:43:29] Oh, yeah.

Catherine [00:43:32] And I constantly work on that, you know? I believe I’m a good person. But without your parents seeing that in you, it’s just somehow harder to get not locked into that trap again with other people like that. So I’ll work on that better.

Rick Hanson [00:43:49] No, that’s so true. It really is true. That’s where the opportunity, of course, is to help experiences with people who do see you, like the ways in which I’m seeing you right now and others who know you better also see you even more deeply, to help them sink down into that little girl way down deep inside that is still not entirely healed. You know? And that’s a practice, and you’re probably familiar with that kind of thing. And to me, that’s where there’s a lot of hope. Yeah. Well, thank you tons, Catherine. Yeah, like your last name a lot, River-Rain. Like how cool is that and how relevant to the conversation today about the river of causes?

[00:44:35] OK, briskly, briskly, Jean and hopefully Madison, and then we’re going to wrap it up. So I’m going to ask you to unmute Jean.

Jean [00:44:45] Here I am.

Rick Hanson [00:44:46] Short and sweet.

Jean [00:44:48] OK. What happens if you suffer personally by a group of people in a matter of 30 minutes, two 15 minute phone calls, they reject you, you’ve just asked them questions and you have an appointment with them that day, but then you hang up and one of them calls you back and says, I’m sorry, I’m going to not have you come visit us. Why? Um, well, I just don’t think it’s a good fit. Really? I’ve not had anyone that I’ve never met or engaged with tell me this. Can you tell me more? And he says, well, you know it just, we were talking and I just, we think you’re going to be difficult. And it’s a service that they provide, a dog service, a place that I can board my dogs. And I just, anyway.

Rick Hanson [00:46:13] Yeah. I thank you, Jean. So in the interest of time here, I’m going to jump in.

Jean [00:46:17] Sure.

Rick Hanson [00:46:18] Yeah. You know, how can I put it, it’s natural to take things personally. You know? And you could even, you know, there’s research, literally, on rats who take it personally that their buddy in the next cage next door gets a little bit of sweet and they don’t. Just rats. Think about that. You know, brains the size I don’t know what, you know, the tip of our little finger. But they take it personally. So it’s natural to take it personally. And it’s natural, really, to feel hurt. I mean, nothing I’m saying here tonight, important point, is against understandable feelings of being hurt often that are turbocharged by, as a previous person was talking, a personal life history.

Jean [00:47:10] Yeah, exactly.

Rick Hanson [00:47:11] Yeah. Really understandable.

Jean [00:47:12] I really related with Catherine.

Rick Hanson [00:47:14] Yeah, very much so. So what can we do? There’s this kind of natural sequence that’s, you know, consistent, I think, with Buddhist teachings and very consistent with modern psychology that we start by bringing compassion to ourselves. You know, we start by being tender. We, you know, we unpack the feelings, we recognize them. We allow them, you know, we maybe sense down into the deeper layers. We try to help them flow and we resource ourselves to go through that part of the practice. We let be. You know, we understand it and we try to bring a lot of kindness to ourselves, especially if that was missing when we were young. A lot of validation, of course. Right? And then hopefully we move into recognizing the bigger picture, the vaster processes, we start being clear about the actual substantive stakes on the table. Is this a mortal threat? Is this the loss of all my money? Is this some kind of devastating injury? If it is, it is. But usually it’s not. And we can put things more in perspective. You know, when we do that part and then we start opening increasingly into a wider view. Neurologically, as we open up to that wider view, we lift our eyes to the horizon, we see the bigger picture, that tends to calm down self-referential rumination and the neural networks that are the basis of that in the midline of the cortex. It also helps us just take in more information, place this in a larger context. Human history. So many things have happened. So many things have happened in your life, right? This is just a blip really in the bigger picture. So there’s a natural rhythm. And I think it’s important to not do the spiritual bypass where we jump over that first part that’s tender and self-caring and honest and real, you know, and being a good ally to ourselves. But it’s important to not get stuck there and to keep on moving into this wider, more spacious, more insightful view of things in which we take things less personally.

Jean [00:49:29] Yeah, I kind of can relate with what Catherine was saying. I have a similar background with the narcissistic parents. And I also, when you mention the goodness in her, that could be the attractor, I actually have experienced that in my life. And I definitely feel in this situation too, that whatever was going on with these folks, it’s a new business for them, I actually probably have a little more experience than them in the field, I know for a fact I think they’re not very confident with the fact that they’re new to this industry, but they’re getting a lot of support. And it just, so in some ways it felt like a defensive posture like, better not let that woman here because she’s going to expose us.

Rick Hanson [00:50:28] Right. So there, if I can finish with that, then Jean, here you are. You’re seeing part of the bigger picture and including some of the maybe not so good motives in other people or, you know, that we can understand. Well, thank you. Let’s finish here, if we could, this evening. And see that Madison—thank you, Jean. Madison no longer has her hand up, so I’m going to finish here. Let’s just let it settle. And maybe there’s a simple takeaway summarized in this beautiful line, which is, love yourself, just don’t love your self. All right? It’s to support yourself, to stand up for the person you are while not being so contracted as an ego and while having a wider view about the many causes and conditions that are flowing through you, making you, breath by breath, each moment.



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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