Reconnect With The MomentThe Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos
- 2,272 views
- 11 Jan 2021
Psychologist and meditation teacher Tara Brach felt too stressed and busy to spend time with her elderly mother - until she had a lightning moment of realisation. Why couldn't she enjoy living in the moment with her beloved parent? What fears and insecurities were preventing her from devoting time to her mom?
Tara tells Dr Laurie Santos how she created RAIN - a mindfulness practise that allows us to Recognise, Allow, Investigate and Nurture our emotions. Once we consciously engage with those emotions, Tara argues, we can decide what's really important to us and our happiness.
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Many of us have come to this particular new year with some pretty high hopes, but in this episode of our New Year's series, I want to introduce you to a really important idea that maybe some of those grand New Year's plans, like finally losing the way, achieving that perfect beachbody, filling that calendar and getting that promotion, maybe, just maybe those things aren't going to make you as happy as you think. Maybe they're even obstacles to truly finding happiness are lying.
Mines often lead us in the wrong direction. And a really common tendency is to fixate on rigid improvement goals that actually end up compounding the real well-being problems we're facing. Fortunately, there is a quick and simple practice to restore the balance. And as we keep seeing in this mini season, a better strategy probably involves being a little nicer to ourselves and to others.
So if you're ready to learn how to be happier through kindness, then join me, Dr. Laurie Santo's, as the happiness lab takes you out in the rain. Rain r a i n it stands for recognize, allow, investigate, nurture, it's a sure acronym, but as you'll learn in this episode, it's a really powerful concept. All year round we try to cram our lives with things to do, goals to achieve, deadlines to meet, places to be, accolades to win and points to prove.
And around the New Year, these normal urges often get a supercharge. If we're not careful, this flurry of activity and striving will not only exhaust us, but also result in lots of the things we know are bad for happiness will be time famished and isolated. We might even wind up suppressing some of our true needs and emotions, often in really unhealthy ways. If this sounds like you, you're not alone. I fall into this trap all the time and so does Tara Broch, my guest in this episode.
I love that your voice is out there and what you've been bringing forward and you're making great ripples.
Thank you. That is amazing to hear in general, but especially from you. So the mutual appreciation will mean it should be a fun, fun episode. So so did you hear did you hit record on your side?
I'm going to miss. OK, we are recording. Tara is a widely respected psychologist and meditation teacher. She's the author of the book Radical Compassion, and she's also one of my heroes because the meditation technique she's popularized, that practice of rain I mentioned earlier, has helped me to not only put the brakes on a lot of unhealthy urges, but also to consider what really matters for living a happier life. But the even more amazing thing about Tara is that she honestly admits that she, too, occasionally gets caught up in all that not so good strivings stuff.
So my mom came down to live with my husband and I when she was about eighty two. And I always felt this pull and the strain between feeling like I should be more with her and also all the pressure of getting things done for my work, for my teaching. And I'll never forget one day when she came in to show me a New Yorker article and I was actually on the computer doing a talk on love and kindness. And when I looked up, she was walking away.
And I'll never forget seeing her retreating figure and thinking, I don't know how long I'll have with her. And it just being struck. And that's when I moved away from my computer and I realized I just needed to take some time to sense what was going on. I just turned my attention inward and I could feel guilt, but also the anxiety and feel it in my body and offer myself kindness just to offer some self compassion, some reminders to myself that it was really OK, that the teaching would work out and that I love my mom and feeling much more spacious, much more open, and that over and over again.
Then over the next months when I'd feel tight like that, different times that I was with her, I would inwardly just feel what was going on inside me and bring some kindness and kind of open up more. And I found that when I was with her, I could just show up and we'd have our big salads together at night time or go for our walks on the river. And I was just there with her. And I remember when she died, which was just a couple of years later, I really had this sense of huge, enormous grief.
I can always feel it as a share, but also just that I didn't have regrets. I hadn't missed my life moments with her. And people tell me over and over again that mindfulness has saved their lives. And I feel like it saved my life moments with my mom.
And so you talked about feeling like struck when you had this realization. But this is the kind of thing we go through all the time as soon as we recognize when we're not dealing with our negative emotions.
Right. We spend a huge amount of time disconnected. And what I kind of call a trance, where we're living in our thoughts and a small kind of world and not really in touch with what's going on inside us or other people. I mean, we're really we're living most of our moments and thoughts about life rather than directly contacting the emotions.
When you had that moment of seeing her retreating and walking away, what was the realization of what did you what did you notice that you were missing about yourself or missing about what you were paying attention to?
It was in stark relief, Lori, that I could see that I was living in this very small world where the underlying mantra was, there's not enough time. That's a trance. And by trance, what I mean is living in a kind of fear based world where the story of who I am or what has to happen, then it's really shaped by fear and forgetting the bigger picture. If I was the end of my life, looking back, what would matter was showing up and being present and being loving.
And I, I often think of a friend who's a palliative care giver and she's been with thousands of people at their deathbed. She says that the greatest regret of the dying and the way they put it is I didn't live true to myself. I lived according to expectations. I lived shaped by my own judgements. I lived out of fear. But I I didn't live true to my heart. And that was the experience and that moment of, oh, I'm not alive right now.
And that motivated me to pause and to come back into alignment.
And this issue of kind of not being in alignment with our emotions, I mean, this is such a common thing, right. In part because many of us just don't take time to deal with or notice what's going on inside ourselves.
That's exactly right. We're on autopilot and lost in thoughts. Harvard research about five years ago talked about how 50 percent of the time our minds are wandering, they're not just wandering because we have this negativity bias. We're really mostly fixated on what can go wrong or what's wrong with us or in some way worrying, planning, strategizing to avoid trouble. And we can live in that and really miss out on what's right here in the moment. So it takes kind of a recognition.
I don't want to live in a virtual reality, I want to be in touch with my body, my heart, with others, and so it's that kind of recognition that motivates us to challenge the autopilot.
Sometimes those auto pilots, they can masquerade as something that's good for us. Right. In your story with your mom, you were working on a talk. You know, it's not that you were doing something that was awful. In some ways. You were adding to your own productiveness, adding to your own busyness. But sometimes those are reactions that we have to avoid our emotions, too, right?
That's exactly right. We get so habituated to the mindset of I need to get more done. I haven't done enough. Something's missing, that kind of mentality that we stay really busy. And part of what's going on is that we use our thoughts to stay away from the wrongness of our feelings. It's like we have this escape route through obsessive thinking. And it's not like we like obsessive thinking, but on some level it serves to take us out of our body where feelings reside.
So we miss and are not listening to our emotions. And not only do we miss the challenging emotions like shame or fear, we also miss out on joy and on love and on the sense of the mystery of life. Thoughts, of course, are necessary for surviving and for flourishing, but we are so habituated in getting lost in thought. So if you look at the last bunch of hours, where were you? Were you in a trance of thinking?
I mean, how many moments did you actually feel your breath, you know, or feel the air on your skin or hear the sounds around you, birds or rain or really see the the light in a child's eyes? How many moments did you actually arrive? And people realize that we're out surfing channels. We're either in the future, the past, but we're not right here touching what's real.
And we also wind up when we're not touching what's real, engaging in these behaviors that are worse than getting caught up in this trance of productivity and overwork. Right. I think just not paying attention to what's really going on is why we engage in too much time online or eat stuff that we don't want or by too many things or think you have this one example. If you kind of find yourself having gone through a whole bag of trail mix and you're like, wait, what just happened?
Right. I we talk a little bit about how these trance's work and kind of how how tough it is to break out of them.
Well, there are all different types of Trance's, but they're mostly driven by our survival brand, the fear and the grasping. It's a challenging world. And so we all take on a spacesuit. We all develop our different strategies to navigate, to get approval, to get what we want out of life, to defend and protect ourselves. And what happens is we get identified with the spacesuit. In other words, we think we're the one with the addiction or the one that's prove themselves with the achievements.
We could identify with the surface and we forget really who's looking through. There are different ways that our space suit takes shape. And one of the Trance's that I think is most predominant is what I call the trance of unworthiness, because we tend to not like ourselves. And it's probably the most pervasive trance we're in where we tell ourselves a lot of stories about what's wrong with us. And that has a profound impact on how we behave and what happens in the world.
I mean, if we're caught in the trance unworthiness, we end up trying to avoid the feelings with addictive behavior. We end up not being able to be as intimate with each other because there's a sense of, well, or if I got close to you, you'd find out about who I really was and you wouldn't like me. So we're afraid of intimacy. It's very hard to take risks at work because we don't trust ourselves and we think will fall short.
So these negative beliefs and feelings end up keeping us really imprisoned. And one woman friend of mine was with her mother as she was dying and her mother was in a coma. But she came out of the coma and she kind of looked her in the eye and said, you know, all my life I thought something was wrong with me. And then she closed her eyes, went back into a coma and died shortly after. And for my friend, it was a real wake up call that her mother had been in this trance for all those years and all the ways that limited her life.
And, of course, it motivated my friend to kind of see where in her own life she was living inside those beliefs and to learn what I've been kind of pointing to, to pause to come into the moment, to actually directly connect with the vulnerability and do some of the healing. It really frees us, and so the surprising thing is what we need to free ourselves is to actually take the space suit off. You know, sometimes we think, oh, the space suit I have that wasn't really working.
I need a different space suit. I need to get the perfect beach body or I need to get another accolade at work or like a higher salary. You're right. We can kind of think that we need other protective coverings, but the actual way out of it is to take those things off, which ironically means looking at the deep seated, scary stuff that we're really afraid of quite directly.
That's exactly right. The space suit can sometimes be thought of as an ego self. It's not like we have to get rid of ourself. It's more that we have to be willing to come into the moment and sense what is underneath this, what's underneath this. And there's a story of a sage who people would go through deep forests and over raging rivers and climb mountains to see him, and he would swear them to silence and he'd say to them, OK, this is the one question to ask, what am I unwilling to feel?
And it's really powerful when we stop all our busy planning and worrying, when we stop trying to prove ourselves or improve ourselves and just say right this moment, what am I unwilling to feel? And what we will start sensing in our bodies is that there's a squeeze of deep insecurity or fear that's asking for our attention. So the real training to actually free ourselves up is to sense under the layers of protection and really start bringing a healing presence to that vulnerability.
The training terror recommends is what she calls rain, recognize, allow, investigate, nurture, it's an extension of the mindfulness and self compassion practices that we talked about with Krista Neff in the last episode. But Rijn gives you an easy to follow checklist that you can use whenever you feel that stress tightness rising.
I'll have to run through how rain works when the happiness lab returns in a moment. Tara Brocks reign practice has become my go to strategy whenever I'm feeling frustrated with a colleague or impatient while waiting in line or even anxious about something at work. It's so simple but so effective to see how the process works. I asked her to take us back to that incident with her mom in order to illustrate how we can all recognize, allow, investigate and nurture. Any time there's suffering, any time there's some strong, unpleasant experience can be an invitation to find out what's going on and bring a healing presence.
And with my mom, as I said, the pang of sensing, I don't know how long I'll have with her, it just like, OK, I'm off. So rain starts with pausing with just in some way registering, OK, something needs attention and we pause. And the hour of rain is recognized and what that means is to just recognize whatever is most predominant and for me it was anxiety, there was anxiety and guilt. And with recognize, it's really helpful to mentally whisper what you're noticing.
For me, it was just OK, anxious, anxious, because in the moment of naming it, we're not quite as caught in what's going on. It activates the prefrontal cortex is a little more of a kind of presence of witnessing the a brain is allow and allow means instead of just steaming on forward or trying to fix something or even judging what what's going on, just to let it be there, let the experience be as it is, I sometimes will just say, OK, this belongs.
And it just means that these are the waves in the ocean right now. It's like it's going to change, but this is what it is right now. So recognize, allow. And then I started investigating and investigate primarily is in the body. And it's misleading because people think investigators, some cognitive searches do. Well, I acted like this because when I was very young did Ed. It's not that. So for me, investigating meant I started just to feel into my body, my throat, my chest, and start to feel the squeeze that had been there, that I was not really even noticing of anxiety, of trying to make sure I didn't fail at something.
So I felt that I investigated and investigated, included that belief in me that if I don't work really hard, I'm going to fail at something and people won't love me. So that kind of came in to my awareness and the squeeze on my body was really strong. I could feel it. So I began the end of rain, which is nurture, and I often will put my hand on my heart. Now, research has shown that that actually creates some relaxing or soothing of the sympathetic nervous system.
There is some calming and it just feels like just a tender touch beginning to come into a kind relationship with my inner life. So I put my hand on my heart and I was breathing with that feeling of anxiety. And I just sent a message to myself. I said something like, It's OK, sweetie, and it's OK, sweetheart, or it's going to work out. You know, what you're doing will work. It'll come through you. You don't need to struggle so hard and to trust my love of my mother just to trust that I love her and that I can show up, because if I'm just reminding myself of loving my mother, just help me to relax into knowing this is what matters.
So recognize, allow, investigate and then that nurturing, that self compassion. And then there's what I call after the rain and after the rain. If you think of a real rain fall and how the blossoming often comes after the rain, well, it's similarly with this four step meditation practice that it's after you do those four steps that you can sense a shift and the shift, it could be just a tiny bit or it can be very deep is in the direction of more spaciousness, openheartedness, clarity, not a stock in that anxious, striving space self and more connected to my heart.
You've talked about rain is having those four steps, but also being a practice that weaves two things that we've talked about a lot on happiness. One is this idea of mindfulness and the other is this idea of compassion. And so let's explore how rain touches on both of those, because I think those parts are really important to well, rain is a wave of mindfulness and compassion.
Recognize is the beginning of mindfulness to see what's going on. And allowing is really the beginning of compassion, where we without judgment create space for what's there. And then investigating deepens mindfulness because we're beginning to bring a very interested attention to what's actually here. So we're contacting and learning about an opening to what's actually here. And then nurturing is the fullness of compassion, as I think it was evolutionary psychologists, Cozzolino said. It's not the survival of the fittest, it's survival of the nurtured.
By nurturing, it really frees us up from a lot of the tension that keeps us tight and small. So each of the steps deepens our capacity really for mindfulness and compassion.
You describe the process as being kind of a U-turn for your attention. Talk about the some of the benefits of taking that you turn.
Well, I love the expression you turn, Laurie, because it's as if our attention is fixated outward and the U turn of rain, actually. Allows us to pause and turn the attention back as to what's going on inside us because we're so unconscious often. There's a beautiful I think it was Joseph Campbell who first put it forward. Imagine awareness as a great circle and that there's a line going right through the center. Everything that's above the line is in awareness and everything below the line is outside of awareness.
Well, the mindfulness and compassion of rain moves the line. So there's more awareness and we actually have more choice in our lives so that the moments of our life actually align with what matters to us and actually allow us to feel happier and more peaceful.
And in part because this process of connecting with our inner emotions aligns us with what really matters. It can also align us back to connections we might be missing to the people and the sort of communities around us we might not be tapping into when we're in these trances.
Exactly right. Suffering is separation. And the more that we're caught in a trance, the more separate we are from our own bodies, from our heart and from each other. I'll share one story with you that kind of shows how rain works with connectedness. And there was one man several years ago who's an executive and a tech company, and he had a really bad temper. And so he alienated a lot of people at work. But he didn't come to therapy or mindfulness until he was in crisis with his family.
And so we worked together and we started exploring rain. How when he started feeling that building up of anger, that he could pause and notice what was going on and just pause again, allowing it and just feel it in his body, investigating, and just say something to himself to calm himself down. So he practiced it. And he told me after a while that probably one out of four times he actually could sidestep any expression of anger at all, which is actually huge.
But I want to tell you about one of the times that he sidestepped and one of his team managers had come in and had confessed that he had fallen behind on a contract that his team was working on. And this is the kind of thing that would normally have the executive I'm telling you about just go off the rails. He was about to, but he paused. He noticed what was happening, recognize, OK, getting angry and let it be there for a moment and just felt his body and breathed and said, it's OK.
And then he took the guy in a little more. I'm sure you're doing the best that you can. This guy who had come to talk to him was just an honest, hard working person and said, well, I wasn't going to mention it, but my wife has stage four breast cancer. We have two teams and it's a really hard time. And they hugged this guy told me is the first time at work ever. And he said a few months ago, I would have unwittingly added to this man's suffering.
And it's really one of my saddest and best moment. You know, everyone we meet is struggling hard. That's a saying. And it's true. So I wanted to share that, because when we look out, rather than seeing the other person spacesuit, seeing their defensive ego or whatever it is, we see what shining through it more, we see the goodness. And so we start to give each other that gift of seeing each other's goodness, which is I think it's the greatest gift we can give.
And it's the medicine our world needs is that we can go around instead of reacting to each other, pause and be able to see the spirit or the light or the love that's living through those eyes that are looking at us.
Sometimes we can even find deeper connections in terms of our identities that we didn't really expect. I've heard you tell this one story of an Army lieutenant who is using grain in the grocery store, and it allowed for a kind of connection across a level of polarization. I wonder if you share that story, too. I'd be glad to, because that's one of the ones that most touched me. He had to learn mindfulness through an anger management course. And there was one day he was in a supermarket and he had a whole pile of groceries that he wanted to buy.
The woman in front of him only had one item and she had a little girl and she and the clerk were doing an eye over the little girl. And so this lieutenant started getting just filled up with steam, with a lot of anger. And who does she think she is? And I've got a lot to do and I'm busy and did it. And then he went, oh, yeah, signal practice of mindfulness here. So he had time.
So inwardly he he just recognized what was going on. He was angry and, you know, let it be there for a moment and and just felt inside the clench. And he registered that it wasn't anger. It was a real fear about not getting things done and. So many of us know it that it's like our life's going to go down the tubes if we don't get the thing done, we need to get done. So he was feeling fair.
You know, it's OK. It's OK. He nurtured in a kind of mild way, took a few deep breaths. And when he opened his eyes, he thought, oh, that little girl's pretty cute. So the woman left with the child. And when it was his turn with the clerk, he said, that little girl's really adorable. And the clerk beamed. She said, oh, that's that's my daughter. My mother takes her over to visit me.
And my husband was killed in Afghanistan last year. And this is the only way I have some time to be with my daughter.
And I remember. When I heard that, how much it struck me that we just forget we forget that just like us, other people are living in uncertainty. It doesn't matter how much achievement they have or money or whatever. It's like everyone's in a body that's going to die and everyone we love. So it's an insecure world. And when we can remember that, we enter the shared sense of we're in it together and there's something incredibly nourishing and healing about knowing that we're in it together and we can show up for each other more.
And you've seen the benefits of it firsthand about what happens when we really take time to show up and connect. And so you're comfortable with that. Kind of wanted you to sort of finish the story of your mom about what happened towards the end of her life and how how connected you wound up feeling with her later on, in part because of some of these practices?
Yeah, well, my habit had been to take her to a doctor's appointment, but really be scheming on the quickest route. And how can I get back and get back to work or be having dinner with her, but trying to figure out how I could get back to my computer that stopped. And what happens with rain is that once you practice it, it can become quicker and more accessible. And that's why I love rain, because even when we're caught up in a really big reactivity, really angry, really upset about a mistake we made or blaming another, there's something in us that goes, OK, I'm having a hard time and we can remember, recognize, allow, investigate, nurture.
And so it becomes quicker. And so that's what happened, is that I would much more quickly catch it and and have what I call a light rain and be able to show up for those moments. And those moments became real moments, real life, not like I was on my way back to doing something so that I could check it off the list.
You know, now that we're in the new year, I think everybody's in this phase of setting resolutions, things they want to change about themselves know it's not often that we say instead of the surface stuff, I really want to dig in and deal with my unmet needs. You talk about some of the benefits for our happiness that we might experience if we really if every single one of us just decided to sort of fight these Trance's and dig more inward.
Well, the most immediate thing is that we start trusting ourselves. And I talked about the challenge of unworthiness at the beginning. And most of us, we don't like ourselves. In other words, if we're caught in our defenses, our aggressions for blaming other people underneath or blaming ourselves. And so when we start learning this practice of making the U-turn and nurturing ourselves, we trust ourselves more. We like who we are because we sense a kind of essential being or spirit or whatever we want to call behind the spacesuit.
That's really the truth of who we are. And when we look at other people, we start seeing that. So there's a lot more of a sense of belonging to our world. And for myself, one of the train practices that most nourish that was when I realized how many moments I was moving through life. And if I wasn't judging myself, I was judging others. And so I began doing rain on blame. And it was such a powerful pathway to reconnecting.
We all blame whenever we feel threatened, whenever we're insecure, when we do a lot of comparing and a lot of blaming. So the way Raynham blame works is you just recognize, oh, judging, judging and allow it to be there and then sent under the judge and the uneasiness in our own bodies when we bring nurturing to ourselves and we look through different eyes that another person and there's a a little metaphor I often share that if you imagine you're walking through the woods and you see a little dog under a tree, and then you go to pet the dog and the dog lurches at you and its fangs are bared and it's aggressive and you go from being friendly to being really angry.
But then you see that the dog has its leg in a trap. You know, you poor thing, you might not go close because it still could be dangerous, but your heart has shifted when we do rain and we sense underneath whatever's going on, the vulnerability that's there, our heart gets more compassionate so that if we're behaving in a way we don't like, but we can start sensing that behind it, there's an unmet need. There's a need to feel seeing.
There's a need to feel loved. There's a need to feel safe. There's a lot more forgiveness, a lot more compassion. And it's the same thing with others that when others are behaving in ways that you don't like, they're hurting. They have a leg in a trap. Again, we might we might create whatever boundaries we have to create in order to be safe ourselves and to protect other people around us. But our hearts are still caring. And when our hearts stay open, that is the gift of medicine for the world.
If there's a medicine we all need right now, other than the covid vaccine, it's one that makes us stop to think about why we're feeling the emotions we do and what those emotions are telling us about our unmet needs before we start embarking on all those big plans to be better, bolder and busier this year, we really need to consider what we're trying to achieve. And why is that plan something that will really make you happy, or is it just another space suit that you're using to distract yourself?
So you will have to address a more fundamental thing that's really affecting your happiness. In the final two episodes of our January mini season, we'll drill into two very common and potentially problematic New Year's resolutions, diet and exercise. We'll see that embracing a more self compassionate approach to eating and activity is not just a happier strategy, but also a more effective one, too. So I hope you'll be back for the next two episodes of The Happiness Lab. With me, Dr.
Laurie Santo's. The Happiness Lab was co-written and produced by Ryan Dilli, the show was mixed and mastered by Evan Biola and our original music was by Zachary Silver, special thanks to the entire Pushkin team, including LaBelle, Maggie Taylor, Carly Migliore, Heather Fain, Sophie Krein McKibbon, Eric Sandler, Jacob Weisberg and my agent Ben Davis.
The Happiness Lab is brought to you by Pushkin Industries and Dr. Larissa Waters.