Meditation + Talk: Anxiety – and the Noble Truth of Suffering

Meditation + Talk: Anxiety – and the Noble Truth of Suffering

This Wednesday Night Meditation included a 32-minute guided meditation and 47-minute talk and discussion about the Four Noble Truths in terms of anxiety. This week we focused on the First Truth: Anxiety and Suffering. You can find notes for the talk here.

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

Meditation: Anxiety – and the Noble Truth of Suffering


Talk: Anxiety – and the Noble Truth of Suffering

Dāna offering:

These teachings are offered freely, at no charge.

To practice generosity through making an offering – called “dāna” in the language of early Buddhism – please enter your email and donation amount below. Once you click “Donate” you will be directed to PayPal, where you can pay via credit card (no PayPal account required) or your PayPal account.

Would you like to make this an automatic, recurring weekly donation?*
Would you like to make this an automatic, recurring weekly donation?
This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

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.

Anxiety and the Noble Truth of Suffering Talk (download transcript here)

Rick Hanson [00:00:00] This year, as I said, I’ll be exploring what is really the heart of the Buddha’s teaching: The Four Noble Truths. And this is his very, very practical wisdom about why do we get unhappy? Why do we feel stressed? Why do we get angry? Why do we suffer? And most importantly, what can we do about it? The Buddha was immensely practical. He was interested in what’s true, but he was mostly interested in what works. And so that’s what I’ll be exploring with you over the course of this year. As he said, and this is a direct quotation as best we know, “I teach only about suffering and its end. That’s all I teach about,” he said. “I teach only about,” pardon me, “suffering and its end.”

[00:00:49] To summarize The Four Noble Truths, which I’ll go into with a lot of detail, as, you know, the months, you know, precede, The Four Noble Truths are, essentially: there is suffering. It’s a fact. It’s not all that life is, but it’s certainly here. Second, our suffering has a deep source. We’re not just stuck with it. It comes due to causes. And that deep source is what could be called craving, broadly defined. Fighting with what’s unpleasant. Grasping after and chasing what feels good. Clinging to what is relational. And, you know, often being deluded about what is none of the above. So there’s craving. That’s the second noble truth. The third noble truth is that we can end craving and thus end our suffering. That’s the good news. We’re not just stuck. And in the fourth noble truth, there is an effective path to the ending of our craving and our suffering. Those are the four noble truths, in essence.

[00:01:59] The Buddha encouraged us to understand suffering, to abandon craving, to realize the cessation of suffering, to actually experience it in our own tender body, and to develop the path of ending suffering. To understand suffering, to abandon craving, to realize experientially the ending of suffering, and to develop the path over time that both leads to that ultimate awakening and reduces our suffering along the way. Those are The Four Noble Truths. In future talks, I’ll get into the fundamentally good news here that we’re not—it’s not hopeless. And I’ll get into the very useful applications in our daily life.

[00:02:57] Over the next few weeks, over the next four weeks counting this one that I’m teaching here as an introduction—an overview—to the four noble truths, we’re going to explore them through the lens of anxiety, including tonight. And tonight I’m going to focus on anxiety in reference to the very first noble truth to understand our anxiety, to understand this kind of suffering. I’ll also preview a number of really important ideas and tools and perspectives that we’ll be exploring in greater depth over the course of the year. These are generally applicable skills and ideas that you can apply to any kind of deep practice, any kind of psychological practice, any kind of effort at healing and well-being, whether it’s inside a Buddhist perspective or not. OK. All righty? And then I’ll make time for sure for questions and discussion. I’ll keep rolling along here.

[00:03:58] It will help as I go along if you have a specific focus, something you’re worried about or often come back to. Or maybe as someone brought up in the in the chat during the kind of initial period here before we got formally started, what if there is a kind of background, a sense of uneasiness? Maybe it’s nonspecific anxiety, sometimes called trait anxiety, anxiety without a particular object, anxiety that’s looking for something that’s wrong. Pick something. It’ll help if you concretize what I’m talking about and apply the general things that I’m going to bring up here to your own particular issue. All right? OK.

[00:04:43] So, let’s explore—let’s understand—in respect to the first noble truth, let’s understand the truth of anxiety. So, anxiety is a broad term. It ranges from subtle uneasiness to stark terror with a spectrum of worry, apprehension, foreboding, dread, fear, and panic in between. And by the way, I’m also scanning the charts as they come in and yes, I did say “trait anxiety” as something nonspecific. We can also have state anxiety that seems related to something in particular. Anxiety is uncomfortable for sure. We don’t like it and would prefer not to have it. If a dear friend tells us they are anxious about something, we would most likely be moved by compassion and goodwill toward them to wish that they did not have to deal with that experience. In the broadest sense, therefore, anxiety is in the territory of the first noble truth.

[00:05:52] And here’s an important general point. To understand, to face the truth of suffering in any form, in ourselves or in other people, is challenging. That’s why we’d like to look away. You know, we swerve away. We glide over, we numb out, we drug out as a way to avoid facing the truth of suffering in others or in ourselves. So, to face it is challenging. And so we need to draw upon resources, resources of various kind inside ourselves and outside ourselves. Internal resources like self-compassion, understanding, grit, self-awareness, self calming. And external resources like other people, or sources of wisdom, friends and allies, refuges and teachers. We need to resource ourselves. And that will be certainly a general theme that I will come back to again and again and again, including how to hardwire these psychological resources inside you into your own nervous system, so they make that critical transition from simply being experiences, states of confidence or self-compassion or grit that are good in the moment but don’t last. I will help you learn how to turn passing traits, pardon me, passing states into lasting traits of psychological strengths woven into your nervous system. This will be an ongoing and important theme. We’re not meant to face suffering alone without resources of various kinds.

[00:07:47] So, you might ask yourself with regard to what it is that you’re worried about or feeling anxious about or might be an ongoing kind of background wallpaper in your own mind, a sort of atmosphere, a mood of anxiety, what resources might be helpful for you inside yourself or outside yourself to deal with it?

[00:08:09] A second really important point here, from the very get-go about facing suffering, you know, engaging the first noble truth of understanding, recognizing our suffering, is that it’s interesting that the translation of noble truths from the language of early Buddhism, which is called Pali, the probably proper translation of that phrase is “Truths of the noble ones.” Noble, not by birth, as the Buddha emphasized again and again, but noble by deed. Of thoughts and words and actions. Noble in the sense of that which is virtuous, admirable, worthy. When we tell the truth—so how could it be that these are the truths of the noble ones? How could it be that facing suffering, including facing anxiety, is a truth for noble beings? Well, first, when we tell the truth about suffering in ourselves and others, there is a kind of inherent nobility in it. It takes a certain inner nobility to face pain. And it ennobles you to do so with dignity and self-respect. In effect, we could call these The Four Ennobling Truths, which is a really beautiful way to approach them. So here, too, you might ask yourself, can you tap into what seems like a genuine—without pretense or arrogance or conceit, not being above anyone else, but simply observing factually a kind of inner nobility in yourself, a certain inner dignity and endurance and durability that can enable you to face your own suffering or suffering in other people—can you tap into that? And how can you allow this honesty about suffering and a clear-eyed facing of it to grow these qualities of inner nobility inside you? It can entirely shift your relationship to your suffering, whether it’s about anxiety or anger or addiction or loss or sadness or shame, anything, to ask yourself, “What nobility can I draw on?” in the broadest possible sense. And feel free to choose a different word. If that word has bad associations for you, chuck it. How could it help you to draw upon that which is, in the broadest sense, admirable, worthy, noble within you to deal with it? And how might you use your engagement with suffering to ennoble you? Really a powerful consideration. OK.

[00:11:01] When we are anxious it is unpleasant. There is emotional pain for sure, at a minimum. There’s pain. There’s discomfort in anxiety of any kind. And when we resist it, when we resist our anxiety in various ways—suppressing it, shaming ourselves for it, denying it, pushing it away—then there is also suffering alongside that pain. In other words, as a key takeaway right here, there is a difference between pain and suffering. Wow. Wow. As the saying puts it, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” Wow. We will all face pain, but we don’t inherently have to suffer. I’m going to say more about this when I get into the second and especially the third noble truths, but I just want to make this distinction right now between pain and suffering. Pain is inherent, inescapable discomfort of one kind or another, physical or emotional. And sometimes there’s a beauty in it, like the inherent pain, in the sorrow in losing a loved one or being aware of injustice visited upon so many people. Right? OK. You know, pain can open our heart. Sorrow can tenderize the heart, as people say. But we don’t have to add suffering to it.

[00:12:35] When we accept our painful experiences, for example, letting them be, facing them, honoring them, telling the truth about them, not adding anything to them, not taking them so personally, then they are simply unpleasant. They are simply painful. And they need not contain any suffering. So here, what happens when you just accept your own anxiety, when you soften around any kind of fear, any kind of worry? It’s there, but you’re softening around it, regarding it with kindness and compassion. What does that do to the overall experience? Does that dial down your suffering? I think it does. What happens when you listen for what useful information might be in it and then act on that useful information? Received the message. What happens then? What happens when you stop pushing anxiety away and instead welcome it in? When you have it without being it, without identifying with the anxiety. It’s there. It’s there. You’re not crazy. You’re experiencing it, yes, indeed. But you can regard it more impersonally. What happens then? It’s there, but do you have to make it me? What happens then? I will say more about this, as I’ve said, but right here alone, wow. What happens when we just be with our experience as it is without resisting it in any way? OK? I’m going to keep going here.

[00:14:21] Anxiety, obviously, as we understand it, you know, we’re exploring the understanding of the first noble truth of suffering, anxiety is an experience. Obviously. Thank you, Captain Obvious. But here’s the key point: it’s a mental phenomenon. It’s not out there. It’s not tangible. You can’t weigh anxiety. Similarly, suffering of any kind is an experience. It’s a personal psychological phenomenon. And here’s the general takeaway. The Buddha was focused on experiences. That was his primary focus, not focused on events, or conditions, or the political or social structures of his time. He was focused on experiences mainly of humans, though he did speak of the experiences that non-human animals have as well. For example, in his call for compassion for all sentient beings, not just humans. The Buddha was practical. He took into account the material world, notably the other people in it, but only insofar as what was happening in the world outside us affected the world inside us. That was his primary focus. So, just want to name that as a fact. Sometimes people try to infer from Buddhism implications for social justice, and there are some. For engaged work in the world, there certainly are some. Generally, though, while the Buddha did certainly advocate for certain things and the outer world, his primary focus and therefore mine in these Wednesday evenings will be on the inner one. OK.

[00:16:09] So then to keep going, as we face the truth of anxiety, like all experience, as it has many parts. It has parts or layers to it. I think of our experiences as sort of like the, you know, the tracks of a song where there’s the, you know, the singing track, and then there’s the lead guitar, the bass guitar, the piano, and the drums. I don’t know. I never made any music other than “Row, Row, Row the Boat.” Anyway, so our experiences much the same way have these multiple elements to them. One way of structuring experience that’s kind of grounded in my own background as a clinical psychologist is in terms of five aspects, which I’ll just kind of name them here. And you might apply them to a worry or a feeling of dread or whatever form of anxiety you’re grappling with. There’s the thought track, which includes beliefs, assumptions, perspectives, ideas, including a lot of non-verbal material, kind of images that relate to—memories sometimes—that relate to—particularly the image of the memory, the recollection—that relates to an experience. There’s that aspect.

[00:17:19] There’s also the aspect of emotions, both passing feelings and more stable and persistent moods. Third aspect or component of our experiences are perceptions, particularly sensations, as well as sights, sounds, tastes, touches, and so forth. Tastes and smells. Forth, desires. There’s our wishes, our longings, demands, goals, aims, purposes, dreams, values, and plans. And then last, fifth, actions, postures, facial expressions, movements related to anxiety or any experience, words, deeds, spoken words. So, you think about these as different aspects of the experience of anxiety. The thoughts, the feelings, the perceptions—especially body sensations—the desires, and the behaviors all together in this package of anxiety.

[00:18:26] Any one of these could be a useful investigation for you. You might want to do a little exercise in which you take something you’re worried about and tease it apart into its elements. In particular, I encourage paying attention to sensations, to the felt sense, as Eugene Gendlin put it, or as Antonio Damasio coined the phrase, the “somatic markers” of our experiences, both experiences that are painful and problematic, burdensome for us, and experiences of psychological resources of various kinds, including the felt sense and the somatic markers of awakening. This is very important. And I’ll return to this theme many times in the weeks and months ahead. The somatic markers underlying both what you’d like to release more and more of and the somatic markers, the felt sense that underlie what you hope to call in, to establish increasingly in yourself and you and it. Paying attention to these underlying somatic markers is really important because these are patterns of sensation, tension, subtle activity, even movement in the body that underlie and typically anchor longstanding patterns, both of suffering and long standing psychological strengths, inner resources that you want to develop. So, try to be really aware of what it feels like in your body to be anxious and also what it feels like in your body as anxiety releases. All right?

[00:20:17] Here’s a takeaway right here that’s very general that has to do with what I’m talking about about the parts of experience. All experiences are compounded. In other words, they’re made up of parts. All experiences have the nature of compoundedness. All experiences can be deconstructed into their elements. In Buddhism, there are several ways to do this other than my own structure that I’ve just talked about here. And I will present these different ways of deconstructing, unpacking, untying the tangled knots of our experiences over the course of this year. For now, I will just point out the power of untangling the tight knot of our painful, upsetting, stressful experiences. You can feel it when you kind of unpack them. You tease them apart. You acknowledge the different elements. You’re not fighting with them. You’re not trying to make them become something else. You’re just simply investigating them and you’re teasing them apart and letting in the two primal traditional medicines light and air. All right? Good.

[00:21:39] Also, in exploring the truth of any experience, including anxiety, you can see the ways that it arises, persists, and passes away due to a variety of causes. It doesn’t just happen on its own. Fear about this, agitation about that is because of something. Because of something inside you or outside you or both. What is happening in this moment is the result of what was happening in previous moments. Now, I will say more about particular factors or causes of pain and suffering when I get to the second noble truth. But a broad takeaway here is that nothing occurs on its own. All experiences, all events occur dependently. In fact, all events in the material universe broadly, you know, whether including a comet, asteroid, something whacking our own planet Earth around 65 million years ago and killing off all the dinosaurs and enabling little rat-like mammalian creatures, our great great grandparents to slowly proliferate and fill out a whole bunch of now emptied out ecological niches so that eventually we could be here together tonight. Right? You know, that event happened due to causes. So, even seemingly stable aspects of our universe, like the speed of light, occur dependent upon—depend upon—the conditions of the Big Bang. Everything is relational. Everything is connected to everything else, inside you and outside you. All phenomena are a local rippling in the vast net, the vast web, the vast tapestry of reality. Every wave is a local expression of the world girdling seas.

[00:23:52] This is really hopeful. If anxiety or any other kind of suffering just plops into you, you know, in a self-causal way, yuck. There’s nothing you could do about it. On the other hand, if anxiety or suffering arises, occurs, maintains, increases, is obstructed from ending due to causes of one kind or another, then if you change those causes, you can change the suffering.

[00:24:27] So, about your anxiety as a practical matter, you can investigate whatever it is outside you or inside you, that is making you anxious. It’s OK if you don’t have a complete list. Just beginning the question, even if you don’t know is a good beginning. It’s a good inquiry. And not making assumptions, really asking yourself, huh, what are the causes? And what are the causes of those causes? What are the deep causes of the causes of anxiety inside me? Outside me? I’ll be exploring this in a great deal of depth in the weeks to come. But for right now, you can ask yourself why, what causes, what makes it come into being? What maintains it? You’re not trying to change anything immediately, but you’re trying to understand, you’re trying to explore the truth of suffering and what is creating your own anxiety. OK?

[00:25:31] Also, as you understand the different aspects of your experience, their compoundedness, and as you recognize how these parts occur due to their causes, you can see that this experience of anxiety and its elements, like all experiences, is continually changing. Even if the anxiety is mood-like and fairly stable, there’s a kind of dynamism to it, a kind of vibration, a kind of energy, a kind of fizzing, if you will. In part because of the underlying just inherent dynamism and instability in the nervous system and the underlying neurobiology that’s the basis, the physical basis for our own experiences. So, you know, the brain is wiggling. Therefore, our experiences are quivering and wiggling as well, even if they seem relatively stable. In a word, all experiences are impermanent. Impermanent. In fact, almost every aspect of the physical universe is impermanent as well. This means that we’re not necessarily stuck permanently with our experiences. And even if pain persists, we’re not stuck in our relationship with it. We can shift our relationship to it. And we don’t have to keep adding our reactions to it. Wow. Really helpful. So, observe your anxiety. Observe how it changes. Is there an insight when you observe it? And watch its dynamism and see it coming and going and rising and falling, dialing up, dialing down, moving forward, moving back. As you observe all that, observe its dynamic, impermanent, ever-changing nature. Here and not here. More intense, less intense. Are there any insights, any bits of wisdom that come to you from recognizing the inherently impermanent nature of any particular experience?

[00:27:41] So to sum up, and as I move to an end here, the fact that all experiences are compounded, interdependent, and impermanent means that they are empty of solidity, substance, absolute self-causing existence. They’re occurring for sure. Our experiences are happening. There’s not a voidness. They’re occurring, emptily. In much the same way, most, if not all, material phenomena are also. Trees, computers, hands are also compounded, interdependent, impermanent, and thus, empty of solidity and absolute inherent existence. They’re happening, right, emptily.

[00:28:47] Emptiness is a fundamental, deep, profound, radical idea. And more to the point, it’s a fundamental, profound, and liberating experience. It’s really at the heart of all of the Buddhist traditions, whether the early original teachings of the Buddha or elaborations of Buddhism and Tibetan practice, Chan, Zen, and also as Buddhism has moved into the West. Emptiness is really fundamental. This topic, and more to the point, this experience, can occupy a lifetime of practice. I suggest staying out of philosophizing about it. The Buddha encouraged that we steer clear of a thicket of views. It’s easy to get into it. Keep returning to your own direct experience. Keep observing directly the sensation of breathing, this feeling of sorrow, this worry about a loved one. It’s inherently and always in its nature, made up of parts, it arises due to various causes, it’s continually changing, and thus, empty of solidity. In practical terms then, when you recognize anxiety or any other experience more like a cloud than a brick, then suddenly it feels lighter, more bearable, less personal, less weighty. And the freedom in this recognition of emptiness is available to all of us always. It will deepen over time. Keep returning to what’s experiential about it. And as we recognize the ongoingness of experiences emptily, in a spacious cloud-like way, and we start to recognize even the existing emptiness of awareness and the existing empty sense of self, wow, we become freer and freer and less burdened by any kind of weighty suffering, simply through engaging the noble practice of understanding and recognizing the truth of suffering.

[00:31:22] So, how about we just sit with this for some breaths? Let’s just let it sink in. And then I’ll see what questions or comments there are in the chat and maybe speak with one person. So, let’s just let it land. OK. Great.

[00:32:06] I’m looking at the chats. Any questions in particular about different aspects of understanding suffering and anxiety? To maybe just quickly review some key points, it’s challenging to practice with, to face suffering. So, it’s important to resource ourselves. It’s ennobling to do this. There’s a key difference between pain and suffering. Pain is inevitable, but with practice, suffering is optional. When we accept our painful experiences, we don’t add suffering to them. The Buddha focused on experiences. He was interested in external events, but he focused primarily on the inner world, and that’s where I’m going to focus here. As we understand our experiences, including suffering experiences, we recognize three attributes that they have inherently of: all experiences being made up of parts, compounded, all experiences occurring due to various causes independently, all experiences being impermanent, dynamic, changeable, vibrational, coming and going. And therefore, the totality of our consciousness, every part of it and consciousness altogether is empty of solidity and inherent absolute self-occurring existence. And the recognition of that emptiness, the cloud-likeness, rather than brick-likeness, of all experiences, is a gateway experientially into a far reaching liberation from suffering. OK. So those are the key points as I take a little water. Questions or comments related to this?

[00:34:15] Let’s see. Lots of good comments coming in. Clarifying the difference between pain and suffering. Key distinction right there. So, right here, my throat is dry. There is a pain signal. And particularly when I come back next time in two weeks, I’ll talk about the biological basis, the deep biological basis for the “craving”, quote unquote, that leads to suffering. So naturally, there’s an alarm that goes off. Oh. But even though it’s painful, do I have to be upset about it? That’s the distinction right there between pain and suffering. Other times, I was teaching an in-person meditation one evening. It was very hot. I don’t particularly care for heat. I didn’t like the heat, but I wasn’t bothered by it. There’s a difference. Or to use a different kind of example when things are pleasant, because this whole territory can go both ways depending on the valence of whatever it is, there are certain things that we can like, but we don’t have to want in the sense of craving, drivenness, insistence, and so forth. And tracking this distinction between pain and suffering, between that which is pleasant and tipping into drivenness about it, that space in there, that buffer in there between pain and suffering, between pleasant and wanting, “My Precious,” that is, right there, a space of freedom and possibility. Really, really central and a very, very central subject of Buddhist practice. So, we’ll say more about that, definitely. But you can explore for yourself. Oh, it’s unpleasant. Do I have to be upset about it? Oh, I like it. Do I have to get attached to it? Oh, it feels relational. Do I have to cling to them or try to impress them in some way about me? Not necessarily. That might be a wonderful, just, mantra almost. Not necessarily. Not necessarily. In which there’s a tremendous freedom. OK.

[00:36:31] Maybe another question or comment? I appreciate the kind feedback I’m getting in here, too, as well. Let’s see. People are asking questions about different ways to work with anxiety. I’ll get much more into that later. I really will. I’m just trying to see if there is anything in particular. Someone asked me about depression. Really good point. So, and then I’ll maybe bounce out to one person. I think we could do that for a minute. So, Annie, I see your hand came up first. I don’t know, Elaine, if I have time for you, but we’ll just see. OK? So, I’ll be quick here.

[00:37:07] About depression, very often different forms of suffering come together. You know, it’s just true. And there’s actually an acronym in psychology: S.A.D., sad, anxious, depressed. Sad is more like a feeling. Depression is more like a mood. Anxiety can be both a feeling and more of a mood. But they do tend to come together, and that’s certainly the case. And you can apply what I’m saying here about unpacking anxiety into various elements and recognizing its emptiness broadly, you can also apply that to more general kind of masses of suffering where stuff’s all mixed together. You know, for example, pain in your body about which you’re anxious, along with a kind of an underlying anger at others who have let you down about it, maybe including in the medical system, plus maybe feelings of embarrassment, “Why am I still sick?” As if it’s your fault. It’s not. Et cetera, et cetera, you know, it’s like a big mass. Big mass. Here, too, you can apply the things I’ve talked about in just the first noble truth, just the first noble truth. We’re just getting started here. Thank you, Buddha. You know, you can use what I’ve talked about here tonight, just in the first noble truth about one thing, anxiety, you can apply it to suffering in general. OK.

[00:38:28] So, just a couple minutes here. Enny or Anny, it would be really great. I’m asking you to unmute. If you could, say what you have to say succinctly and make sure it’s related, you know, and have general interest. OK?

Anny [00:38:41] Yes. What causes anxiety to occur the same time every time? In my case, sunset.

Rick Hanson [00:38:49] Oh yeah. I replied to you, by the way. I don’t know if you saw that.

Anny [00:38:53] Sorry. I didn’t see it. I’ll go check.

Rick Hanson [00:38:55] Oh, really? OK. Great. Then that’ll enable me—so, Elaine and then hopefully, Harry. OK, Elaine, I’m going to ask you to unmute. Elaine are you there? Great.

Elaine [00:39:06] Yes, thank you.

Rick Hanson [00:39:07] Are you willing to turn on your camera? You don’t have to.

Elaine [00:39:10] It freezes my laptop.

Rick Hanson [00:39:12] Great. OK. We can hear you.

Elaine [00:39:14] Yeah. So, this is a bit of a visual that I’m recalling, because I have a tendency in my anxiety and worry. And my first experience with a wonderful meditation teacher many years ago, you know, you’d have meditations and then you’d have a little bit of a private talk. And I would always come in with some issue or another, many issues or another. And one time I came in and he said, “Please sit.” And I sat. And he starts rapidly opening all the doors on his desk and rifling through the contents and opening this door and opening. And it’s like, I’m here to tell you my serious issues. And he doesn’t do anything until I say something like, “What are you doing?” in a polite way. And he said, “I’m looking for the problems.”

Rick Hanson [00:40:05] Hmm.

Elaine [00:40:06] And it just struck me about this emptiness. Like, I’m looking for them. Where are they?

Rick Hanson [00:40:14] Very good. Thank you.

Elaine [00:40:15] And it was just, I keep that visual all the time. And just really fast, a second one, he’d say, “You people are like hanging on to a tree, hugging this tree so tightly and saying, ‘I’m stuck on this tree. I’m stuck on this tree. Please help me. Please help me.'” He said, “You can just open your hands and let it go.” And then everone there was like, “Maybe you can’t do that.” But just the visual of how we are holding on to our own issues very strongly, with the death grip almost.

Rick Hanson [00:40:53] Well, that’s great. Thank you, Elaine. I’m going to keep going here, but I think you, you know, that’s a beautiful metaphor. I’m going to remember it. And I’m sure you’re serving, you served me, and I’m sure you’ve served a lot of people. So, finishing up here, first, Annie or Anny rather, look back at 6:43 p.m. That’s when I sent you a direct message. 6:43 p.m. You have to scroll up in the chat sidebar to see what was there. Harry, is your question or comment really—is it brief. Would that be OK? So, I’m going to ask you to unmute, Harry. Great.

Harry [00:41:35] Do someone else if someone else is waiting.

Rick Hanson [00:41:37] No, no, you’re it if it’s fairly quick, just because at 7:31

Harry [00:41:42] Oh, OK. Well, I just was asking if taking a vacation from something or putting it in the back of your mind and doing other things like they say, you know, there’s events and then in between the events there’s 90 percent is your life. I’m worried about—that’s a marker. But in between that is the rest of your life. So how do you put it, where do you put it in the back of your mind? You take a vacation from it? You deny it? I mean—

Rick Hanson [00:42:18] Yeah. OK, so thank you for that. So, I’m definitely going to go into many different strategies, but I certainly want to endorse, sometimes, in other words, you do what you can and then you go, “I’ve done what I can.” You come to the end of the program, in effect. Like, you end it, you terminate the program. Otherwise it goes into an endless loop and you’re ruminating all day long doing laps around the suffering track, digging it ever more deeply into your neurobiology every lap around it. Not good at all. So, yeah, there’s definitely a place. I’ve done what I could. You just kind of give yourself an instruction. You terminate the worry. You say I’ve done what I could, and you put it out of your mind. And then you turn toward other things, or better things, or things that you can do. There’s definitely a place for that, certainly, definitely a place for that.

[00:43:08] And there’s another related thing though, and this allows me to make a finishing comment. If you take a look in the chat sidebar, you’ll see, let’s see, a comment that came in toward the very end from, it’s coming up here, Martha T. in Sacramento at 7:29 p.m. Extremely important comment, which really has to do with, first, very often, we’re anxious for a reason. And my focus and the Buddha’s focus on internal practice does not mean one molecule that we should not take appropriate action outside ourselves or pay attention to the ways in which anxiety is teaching us something. All right? And our focus here on suffering and the ultimate attempt to come to the end of suffering should not be taken to mean that there’s no value in our suffering and it should not be taken to mean, for example, that anger which can feel, you know, it’s uncomfortable, but still it can really be energizing and helpful. Anxiety, which can be uncomfortable, can really guide you to take appropriate action. So, I want to be really, really clear and also kind of underlie the point that, you know, numerous people have made that it can be, you know, relatively—how can I put it? That’s why I appreciate people like Henry last week or Fleet Maull next week, in other words, people who themselves have grappled with a lot of suffering and who also can say, yes, there are opportunities for coming to the end of it, not just people who’ve had, you know, really, really lucky, fortunate lives. And so I want to be really clear that of course, it’s appropriate to feel pain and upset if people of color are shot by police or anyone is, you know, is treated unjustly. For sure. For sure, it’s appropriate. And nothing in what I’m exploring here is about pushing away what’s useful or appropriate in these reactions. That said, you know, it’s that distinction between pain and suffering. What parts of our experiences are really inherent and necessary and valuable? And what’s the rest and what can we do in our practice with the rest? Good.

[00:45:41] Well, I look forward to seeing you in two weeks. I’m going to get into this great material, I think, partly because I developed it, about the underlying biological evolutionary basis for our suffering. Why do we crave? Why do bodies crave? Why do animals crave? And therefore, what can we do about it? So, that’ll be in two weeks. I hope you’ll come next week for Fleet Maull. And be nice to him. And how about we take a few breaths to just sort of let tonight land? Particularly in terms of any takeaway for you related to your own anxieties or suffering in general. Maybe one thing, even, just one thing can sink in that you find valuable for yourself.

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.

Get the Just One Thing
Weekly Newsletter

A simple practice each week that will bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind and heart.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

You can unsubscribe at any time and your email address will never be shared.