Tend to the Causes

Tend to the Causes

Are You Watering the Fruit Tree?

The Practice:
Tend to the causes.


Let’s say you want to get apples from a tree of your own. So you go to a nursery and pick a good sapling, bring it home, and plant it carefully with lots of fertilizer in rich soil. Then you water it regularly, pick the bugs off, and prune it. If you keep tending to your tree, in a few years it will likely give you lots of delicious apples.

But can you make it produce apples? Nope, you can’t. All you can do is tend to the causes – but you can’t control the results. No one can. The most powerful person in the world can’t make a tree hand over an apple!

Similarly, a teacher cannot make his students learn long division, a business owner can’t make her employees invent great new products, and no one can make another person love him or her. All we can do is to nourish the causes that promote the results we want.

This truth has two implications, one that is tough-minded, and one that is peaceful:

•  You are responsible for the causes you can tend to. If you are not getting the results you want in your life, ask yourself: Am I truly doing everything I reasonably can to promote the causes of those results?

•  You can relax attachment to results. When you understand that much of what determines whether they happen or not is just out of your hands, you worry less about whether they’ll happen, and you suffer less if they don’t.

Paradoxically, focusing less on results and more on causes improves the odds of getting the results you want: you zero in on creating the factors (i.e., causes and conditions) that naturally lead to success, and you aren’t worn down by stressing over the outcome.


•  Do what you can to lift your well-being and overall functioning. This is a global factor that will turbocharge all the other causes you tend to.

So ask yourself: what makes the most difference here? It could be something that seems little; for me, one of the biggest factors is when I get to bed, since that sets up whether I can get up to meditate in the morning, which transforms my whole day. It could also mean dropping something negative that brings you way down, like needless arguments with other people.

Pick one thing that will really lift you, and focus on that this week.

•  Also consider a key area in your life where you are not getting the results you want. (Work? Love? Health? Fun? Spirituality?) In that area, identify one cause that has big effects.

For example, in a logjam, there’s usually a “key log” that will free up the whole mess if you get it to move. Similarly, if you want to fill a bucket, put the biggest rock in first.

Making this real: if you want to lose weight, make sure you are exercising; if you want a mate, make sure you’re meeting new, “qualified prospects”; if you want your kids to cooperate, make sure you’ve established parental authority; if you want a better job, make sure you’re actively looking for one; if you want more peace of mind, make sure you’re routinely relaxing and calming your body.

Get after that one cause this week, and stick with it.

•  Tell the truth to yourself about causes and results: Are you pursuing the right causes? For example, you may be pulling really hard on a rope (a cause) but it’s just not attached to the load you’re trying to move (the result you want).

Maybe you need to tend to other causes – perhaps ones at a deeper level, like your own well-being. Or maybe the result you want is out of your power, and you just have to accept that.

•  Let the results be what they are, learn from them, and then turn your attention back to causes. Don’t get so caught up in your apples that you forget to water their tree!

*     *     *

As they say in Tibet, if you take care of the minutes, the years will take care of themselves.

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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