Saturday, April 7, 2012

Rick Hanson - Taking in the Good: A Personal Reflection

Rick Hanson, author of Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom and Just One Thing: Developing A Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time, is working on a new book. He sent out an email today asking for personal experiences on a specific topic. Interestingly enough, it was something that has been "up" for me the last couple of months.

First the email.


I have a favor to ask. I'm heading into writing my next book, which is about the practice of taking in the good, and related themes of defeating the negativity bias, taking charge of building structure in your brain, and coming home to your natural resting state of happiness, love, and peace. It would help me a lot to get examples of how the method of taking in the good has helped people such as yourself. I need these as soon as possible, ideally over this weekend and by Tuesday at the latest. 

A sentence or brief paragraph would be great. Maybe with an example. I may use what you write in the book, though never with your name, and it's fine to leave out or alter identifying details. 

As you probably know, the three basic steps of taking in the good are:
1.  Let a good fact become a good experience.
2.  Open to and savor this experience for 10-30 seconds in a row.
3.  Intend and sense that the experience is sinking into you, becoming a part of you.
You can use this method for the good facts around you each day - most of which are relatively small, such as coffee smells good, you finished a batch of emails, flowers are blooming, someone was warm to you, etc. Most positive experiences are fairly mild, and that's fine. But mild or intense, they normally flow through the brain like water through a sieve while negative experiences get caught every time (which helped our ancestors survive). That's why it's so important, several times a day or more, to turn toward a positive experience and take it into you. And since "neurons that fire together, wire together," you'll be weaving positive feelings, sensations, and thoughts into the fabric of your brain and your self.  

Then there is the 4th, optional step, in which you're aware of a strong positive experience connecting with some negative material - such as a longing for love, feelings of anxiety, or some pain from childhood - that is dim and in the background of your mind. You don't let yourself get sucked into the negative material but keep the positive material relatively intense and in the forefront of awareness. With repetition, the positive material will gradually associate to, infuse, soothe, and even gradually replace the negative material. For more on all four steps, see chapters 2 and 50 in my book, Just One Thing.

So I'd really appreciate it if you could send me a few words about your own experience of taking in the good, especially how this method has helped you in some way. Informal and relaxed is fine; you don't have to worry about your writing. I really appreciate any help you can offer me with this.


I assume this went out to the people who subscribe to Just One Thing, his newsletter, so it's not a personal email. But I did send him a response . . . although it was more than just a sentence or a paragraph. As usual, I was a bit verbose.

Here is my response, which I think offers some insight into the process Dr. Hanson is talking about, and also suggests that it's an ongoing process.

Hi Rick,

This is timely - I have been working with these ideas with my therapy clients (sexual trauma survivors) - but the fact that I am working with clients at all is where my experience of this comes in.

I have been self-employed as a fitness coach/trainer for several years, but I had not really "let it in" that my clients all seem to "love" me, for lack of a better word (or maybe that is the correct word). I initially became a personal trainer because I did not feel "good enough" to be a psychotherapist. Three years ago, however, I went back to school, partly as a result of personal work to build more self-efficacy and acceptance.

As I have transitioned into counseling (recently completing a 9-month internship), I received a good deal of feedback from clients (as they completed therapy) and supervisors that I was effective and that my clients were deeply appreciative.

I work to take their experience as fact, and also have worked over the last couple of months to take that in as my experience: I am effective and appreciated. It's always been challenging for me to accept praise or compliments of any kind, so I tried to sit with the emotions of feeling valued and effective in what I do (I have never let that in as a trainer, either, so this impacted my whole work life).

Over the past several weeks, I have continually tried to embody this sense of being valued and to integrate that into my self-concept at the intellectual, emotional, and somatic levels. Being valued is something I have never really felt, which has produced both a "pleaser" self and a "hyper-critical" self that I have worked with therapy and in meditation practice over the years.

Doing this process has brought up the old wounds of having never been acknowledged or appreciated by my family of origin. I did not value myself very highly, so I did not seek work that reflected my skills and abilities  (despite already having one post-graduate degree), and consequently I was always dissatisfied and bored in my work life. With time in therapy, I left some bad jobs and moved into being self-employed, but I still failed to see myself as valuable in the same ways as did my clients.

Now, having tried to use some of the techniques I have learned from your work, as well as from Richard Davidson, Pema Chodron, Kristin Neff, Dan Siegel, and many other sources, I am beginning to embody and live within a much different sense of self, with far less need to please others and much less self-criticism. It feels like I am only at the beginning stages of transformation, but the more room I make for self-worth and self-compassion, the more I know that I am reparenting myself (a la Dan Siegel's Mindsight model) and changing the way my brain is wired.

Thanks for offering space to share this!

I look forward to the new book.

All best,

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