We Can Free Ourselves

Excerpt from "What Does Science Teach Us About Well-Being?" by Richard J. Davidson, Huffington Post, May 10, 2013:

Equanimity and generosity both contribute to well-being and are associated with distinct patterns of brain and bodily activity.

The Dalai Lama has frequently urged us to be kind toward others and has suggested that kindness is a direct route to happiness. Modern research has borne this out and indicates that kindness and compassion toward others is associated with peripheral biological (i.e., biology below the neck) changes that are salubrious.

Equanimity can be cultivated through simple contemplative practices and is associated with being attentive to the present moment and not getting lost in worrying about the future and ruminating about the past.

Modern research indicates that the average adult American spends nearly 50% of his waking life mind wanderingnot paying attention to what he is actually doing. By learning to remain aware of the present moment, we can free ourselves from being slaves to the past and future. This in and of itself can powerfully facilitate well-being and reduce suffering.

Read the entire essay...

See also:

Eyes that See

“Most of us go through the world never seeing anything. Then you meet somebody like Herb and Dorothy, who have eyes that see. Something goes from the eye to the soul without going through the brain.” 

Richard Tuttle

See also:


Today You, Tomorrow Me

The Tire Iron and the Tamale
by Justin Horner
New York Times Sunday Magazine
March 6, 2011

flat-tire During this past year I’ve had three instances of car trouble: a blowout on a freeway, a bunch of blown fuses and an out-of-gas situation. They all happened while I was driving other people’s cars, which for some reason makes it worse on an emotional level. And on a practical level as well, what with the fact that I carry things like a jack and extra fuses in my own car, and know enough not to park on a steep incline with less than a gallon of fuel.

Each time, when these things happened, I was disgusted with the way people didn’t bother to help. I was stuck on the side of the freeway hoping my friend’s roadside service would show, just watching tow trucks cruise past me. The people at the gas stations where I asked for a gas can told me that they couldn’t lend them out “for safety reasons,” but that I could buy a really crappy one-gallon can, with no cap, for $15. It was enough to make me say stuff like “this country is going to hell in a handbasket,” which I actually said.

But you know who came to my rescue all three times? Immigrants. Mexican immigrants. None of them spoke any English.

One of those guys stopped to help me with the blowout even though he had his whole family of four in tow. I was on the side of the road for close to three hours with my friend’s big Jeep. I put signs in the windows, big signs that said, “NEED A JACK,” and offered money. Nothing. Right as I was about to give up and start hitching, a van pulled over, and the guy bounded out.

He sized up the situation and called for his daughter, who spoke English. He conveyed through her that he had a jack but that it was too small for the Jeep, so we would need to brace it. Then he got a saw from the van and cut a section out of a big log on the side of the road. We rolled it over, put his jack on top and we were in business.

I started taking the wheel off, and then, if you can believe it, I broke his tire iron. It was one of those collapsible ones, and I wasn’t careful, and I snapped the head clean off. Damn.

No worries: he ran to the van and handed it to his wife, and she was gone in a flash down the road to buy a new tire iron. She was back in 15 minutes. We finished the job with a little sweat and cussing (the log started to give), and I was a very happy man.

The two of us were filthy and sweaty. His wife produced a large water jug for us to wash our hands in. I tried to put a 20 in the man’s hand, but he wouldn’t take it, so instead I went up to the van and gave it to his wife as quietly as I could. I thanked them up one side and down the other. I asked the little girl where they lived, thinking maybe I’d send them a gift for being so awesome. She said they lived in Mexico. They were in Oregon so Mommy and Daddy could pick cherries for the next few weeks. Then they were going to pick peaches, then go back home.

After I said my goodbyes and started walking back to the Jeep, the girl called out and asked if I’d had lunch. When I told her no, she ran up and handed me a tamale.

This family, undoubtedly poorer than just about everyone else on that stretch of highway, working on a seasonal basis where time is money, took a couple of hours out of their day to help a strange guy on the side of the road while people in tow trucks were just passing him by.

tamale But we weren’t done yet. I thanked them again and walked back to my car and opened the foil on the tamale (I was starving by this point), and what did I find inside? My $20 bill! I whirled around and ran to the van and the guy rolled down his window. He saw the $20 in my hand and just started shaking his head no. All I could think to say was, “Por favor, por favor, por favor,” with my hands out. The guy just smiled and, with what looked like great concentration, said in English: “Today you, tomorrow me.”

Then he rolled up his window and drove away, with his daughter waving to me from the back. I sat in my car eating the best tamale I’ve ever had, and I just started to cry. It had been a rough year; nothing seemed to break my way. This was so out of left field I just couldn’t handle it.

In the several months since then I’ve changed a couple of tires, given a few rides to gas stations and once drove 50 miles out of my way to get a girl to an airport. I won’t accept money. But every time I’m able to help, I feel as if I’m putting something in the bank.

The Most Essential School Supply

My brother, David, works for Communities in Schools in Wichita, Kansas. He and my nephews, food4kidsLeo and Levi, are featured in this public service announcement for a food program sponsored by the Kansas Food Bank. Food-4-Kids works with community schools to provides weekend food supplements to help keep kids engaged in school by addressing chronic hunger.

Food 4 Kids foodbags contain healthy, kid-friendly snacks that require no preparation such as:

  • Peanut Butter (12-ounce jar) and a sleeve of crackers
  • Beans and franks (pop-top can)
  • Beef Jerky (1 ounce)
  • Cereal (1-ounce bowl or box)
  • Fruit cups (peaches, applesauce, etc)
  • Raisins (snack-size boxes)
  • Pudding cups
  • Juice boxes (apple, orange, or other juice)
  • Milk (aseptic pack boxes that do not require refrigeration)
  • Cereal bars or granola bars

“Because the most essential school supply is food.”

Repairing Smiles, Changing Lives

Smile Pinki
Directed by Megan Mylan
In Hindi and Bhojpuri with English subtitles
39 minutes
© 2008 Principe Productions

“Pinki is a five-year old girl in rural India born desperately poor and with a cleft lip. The simple surgery that can cure her is a distant dream until she meets Pankaj, a social worker traveling village to village gathering patients for a hospital that provides free surgery to thousands each year. Told in a vibrant vérité style, this real-world fairy tale follows its wide-eyed protagonist on a journey from isolation to embrace.”

Smile Pinki from Andrew Girgis on Vimeo.

Learn more about Smile Train.

[Thanks, Alex!]

A New Science of Happiness

Dacher Keltner from “Forget Survival of the Fittest: It Is Kindness That Counts,” by David DiSalvo, Scientific American Mind (September 2009):

Dacher Keltner Recent research is suggesting that our capacities for virtue and cooperation and our moral sense are old in evolutionary terms, and these capacities are found in the emotions I write about.

A new science of happiness is finding that these emotions can be readily cultivated in familiar ways, bringing out the good in others and in oneself. Here are some recent empirical examples:

  • Experiences of reverence in nature or of being around those who are morally inspiring improves people’s sense of connection to one another and their sense of purpose.
  • Meditating on a compassionate approach to others shifts resting brain activation to the left hemisphere, a region associated with happiness, and boosts immune functions.
  • Talking about what we are thankful for—in classrooms, at the dinner table or in a diary—boosts happiness, social well-being and health.
  • Devoting resources to others, rather than indulging a materialist desire, brings about lasting well-being.

This kind of science gives me many hopes for the future. At the broadest level, I hope that our culture shifts from a consumption-based, materialist culture to one that privileges the social joys (play, caring, touch, mirth) that are our older (in the evolutionary sense) sources of the good life. In more specific terms, I see this new science informing practices in almost every realm of life.


My Life Wasn’t Meant To Be This Difficult

Excerpt from “To Cambodia, With Love,” by Shannon Sexton, Yoga + Joyful Living (Fall 2009):

To Cambodia With Love When millionaire movie executive Scott Neeson took a backpacking trip through Cambodia in 2003, he didn’t expect to land on a garbage dump. What he saw on the outskirts of Phnom Penh changed his life: hundreds of children—some as young as three years old—somber, sick, smeared in grime, scavenging for recyclables in the smoky wasteland of Steung Meanchey, a toxic dump site that spans eight football fields and is more than 100 feet deep.

Abandoned, orphaned, or sent here to work by their families, these children toil for 12 hours a day or longer, earning about 30¢—enough for a bowl of rice. They scorch their feet on smoldering garbage as they wade through hospital and industrial waste, shards of glass, used condoms, rancid food, and feces. Pimps lurk at the edge of the dump, hoping to lure them into brothels. Their parents—if they have any—are the youngest survivors of the blood-drenched era of the Khmer Rouge; alcoholism, drug abuse, and domestic violence are woven into the fabric of their everyday lives. The most heartbreaking statistic? Only 27 percent of these children survive.

Few of us would consider selling our house, our car, our cherished possessions, and moving here—to one of the most polluted places on the planet, shrouded in smog so thick it coats the taste buds and sears the lungs; a place where flies rise up in black clouds and children are run over by garbage trucks.

Even fewer of us would fund schools for these children with our own money or work long days and weekends with no end in sight, fortified only by the knowledge that we’re making a difference.

Scott Neeson / Cambodian Children's Fund Scott Neeson did.

…He told PBS the real turning point came when, during a visit to Cambodia, he received an "emergency" call from LA. "My phone rang, and it was my office, and the actor who was on tour was having quite a serious meltdown because the private jet didn’t have the right amenities for him. He didn’t want to get on the jet." The actor was quoted as saying, "My life wasn’t meant to be this difficult."

"And I thought, I don’t want this to be my world. This isn’t my reality anymore."

[Thanks Kit!]

That Feeling that Comes From Giving

"Imagine I gave you a hundred rupees, and I gave your sister a hundred rupees and told you to buy whatever you want. You buy a shirt, she buys a dress. But how would you feel if she opens her bag and you see that she bought you a shirt, and you bought her a dress. You'd still have a shirt, but that feeling - that feeling that comes from giving. No one understands that anymore."

~ Nana Patekar, from The Pool, directed by Chris Smith

Weekend Meals Help Kids Succeed in School

My brother is in the news again. Last year he was one of seven people honored with an Unsung Hero award given by David LarsonCommunities in Schools, an organization working "to help young people successfully learn, stay in school, and prepare for life."

He told the local reporter, "I don't think they must have not had many nominees that year," and that he preferred to see his rewards inside the classroom.

In February, The Wichita Eagle ran a story about a program designed to make sure students have enough to eat over the weekend to better prepare them to stay engaged in learning.

People outside the schools have a hard time believing these stories, Larson said. But the Kansas Food Bank has found at least 3,510 such kids in Kansas schools -- nearly 1,100 of them in Wichita -- and is adding hundreds more kids to its backpack program every year. Larson has seen it all. He's talked to the kids' parents.

"Parents break down and cry here. They tell stories: 'I had a job -- I lost my job. I have these kids -- the kids need help. We have nowhere to turn -- we go whole weekends without food.' "

He says keeping kids fed keeps them in school. Some of what he's seen is hard to take, including "watching big, tough-guy fathers melt into tears when I tell them that we've found a way to send food home on weekends."

I'm very proud to be related to him.

Cookies, Cookies, Cookies

From Jonathan Carroll's blog today (it reminds me of the Secret Santa I read about yesterday, the poem Jorie Graham read on KCRW, and - much less poetically - an article on the etiquette of regifting I read this morning):

"Every year at this time a friend goes a little crazy and bakes hundreds of Christmas cookies which she then gives away to friends and co-workers. Each person gets a box of them that must weigh four pounds. Even if you're a Christmas cookie fanatic, it takes weeks to eat all of them. I got my stash earlier today. Carrying it home under my arm, I bumped into a really raggedy street person who looked like he hadn't had a merry Christmas in one hell of a long time. He asked for money. Instead I spontaneously offered him the box of cookies. He snatched it out of my hands and looked it over suspiciously, as if it were a joke or a ticking bomb ready to go off in his face. Satisfied that it was okay, the man asked shyly if he could open it. Then he asked what was inside. Before I could answer, he saw the mound of cookies in there and his face transformed. Cookies! he said, almost groaning. Cookies, cookies, cookies. He wouldn't stop saying that word as he reached in, grabbed a handful and ate them all at once."