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Cultivating Peace of Mind

Emotions, the Limbic System, and Equanimity: Part Three
by Dr. Rick Hanson

Cultivating Peace of Mind

Changing the Machinery of Upset

Let’s consider ways to cultivate more peace of mind – and even its consummation in profound equanimity – by working with the eight gears of the machine of suffering we explored in Part Two. (There are other methods, too, that are more specifically Buddhist, and you might like to explore the Access to Insight website for more information.)

This list is by no means exclusive; it just points to how many great tools are available these days for managing our emotional reactions.

Methods for Appraisals
  • Stay mindful of the whole.
  • Be mindful of the meanings, the framings, we give things.
  • Challenge the significance the mind gives something. Is it really an “eight” on the ten-point “Ugh” scale? If it’s really a two, why is my anger an eight?
  • Challenge the intentions we attribute to others; realize we are usually a player in their drama.
  • What beliefs are implicit about others, the world? Try cognitive therapy methods for challenging inaccurate, negative beliefs.
Methods for Self-Referencing
  • Recognize the suffering that comes from selfing.
  • Practice mindfulness of the sense of “I.”
  • What are the implicit representations of self: Strong? Weak? Mistreated? How does this underlying framing affect your experience of situations?
  • How much are we taking things personally? (“Negative grandiosity,” I’m so important that they’re deliberately hassling me.)
  • How does getting upset intensify or shade self?
  • See the interconnectedness of things in the situation, including yourself.
  • Identify legitimate rights and needs, and take care of them.
Methods for Vulnerabilities
  • Hold a frame of compassion for yourself and self-acceptance.
  • Do an honest self-appraisal of physiology/health, temperament, and psychology: Weak spots? Hot buttons?
  • Protect vulnerabilities in situations: e.g., eat before talking about what upset you; ask people to slow down if you tend to be rigid; push through possible inhibitions in assertiveness due to culture, gender.
  • Shore up vulnerabilities over time: e.g., medical care, vitamins, 5-HTP, antidepressants; build up greater control over your attention; take in positive experiences that slowly fill the hole in your heart.
Methods for Memory
  • Be aware of the “pre-amp” turbo-charging of memory and sensitization.
  • Increase positive emotional memories by “taking in the good.”
  • Shift emotional memories in positive directions over time by recalling old painful experiences while simultaneously bringing positive thoughts and feelings prominently to mind.
  • With a therapist, consider other methods for painful experiences or traumas (e.g., EMDR).
Methods for Aversion
  • Understand the central place in psychology and in the spiritual growth of working with aversion; use that to motivate yourself to not act aversively.
  • Meditate on the Second Foundation of Mindfulness (feeling).
  • Focus on neutral feeling tones.
  • Dwell on the conditioned, compounded, and impermanent nature of the unpleasant.
  • Find compassion for people who are aversive to you.
  • See “21 Ways to Turn Ill Will into Good Will” in the Articles section of www.WiseBrain.org.
Methods for Bodily Activation
  • Understand the mechanical, animal nature of activation.
  • Regard stressful activation as an affliction (as the health consequences of chronic stress).
  • Use one of the many methods for stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system to down-regulate the SNS.
  • Get in the habit of rapidly activating a damping cascade when the body activates.
  • Regard bodily activation as just another compounded, “meaningless,” and impermanent phenomenon.
Methods for Negative Emotions
  • Practice mindfulness of how thoughts shape emotions . . . and how emotions shape thoughts.
  • Explore the many practices for letting go of negative emotions (e.g., visualize them leaving the body through valves in the tips of the fingers and the toes).
  • Cultivate rapture and joy – and the dopaminergic neurological benefits of those states, including for steadying the mind.
Methods for Loss of Executive Control
  • Slow down; buy yourself time.
  • Cultivate steadiness of mind.
  • Describe your experiences in words (noting).
  • Actively enlist internal resources, e.g., the felt sense of others who love you, recollection of what happened the last time you lost your temper.
  • Enlist external resources, e.g., call a friend, do therapy, go to a meditation group.
  • Stay embodied, which helps dampen runaway emotional-visual reactions.

A Meditation on Equanimity

If you like, you might explore the meditation just below. You could read it slowly, entering a meditative frame of mind . . . or record your own voice reading it and then listen . . . or ask someone else to read it to you.

Here we go:

Starting by getting comfortable, perhaps focusing on your breath for a few minutes.

Forming an intention for this meditation, perhaps in words, perhaps simply a feeling . . . Relaxing . . . Feeling as safe as you can . . . Finding, evoking happiness . . . Sensing that the benefits of this meditation are sinking into you . . .

Being mindful of the changing sense of pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral in your experience.

Perhaps a lot of pleasant and neutral right now.

Whatever is present, be aware of your reactions to it.

See if you can sustain a sense of equanimity toward whatever qualities your experience has.

Impartial, accepting, and at peace with it if it is pleasant.

Impartial, accepting, and at peace with it if it is unpleasant.

Impartial, accepting, and at peace with it if it is neutral.

The mind remaining steady, quiet, and collected . . .

Seeing that any pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral tones come and go, caused by preceding conditions.

They are interdependent with the world and constantly changing.

And thus not fit to be depended on as a basis for happiness.

Feeling tones coming and going . . . without an owner. Without a self needed.

In the pleasant, there is merely the pleasant.

In the unpleasant, there is merely the unpleasant.

In the neutral, there is merely the neutral.

No owner of the pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Nothing to identify with.

Just states flowing through awareness. Mingled with breathing and happiness.

Finding a sense of freedom and peace of mind in the non-reactivity.

A joy, perhaps, in the freedom. In this equanimity.

Impartial to whatever arises. A kind of ease with it. A kind of relaxed indifference.

Not preferring anything else. A sense of fullness already, of being alright as it all is. A profound acceptance of whatever arises. Allowing it to come and go without grasping or aversion.

Abiding as equanimity. Breath after breath after breath. At ease. Settling into deeper and deeper layers of equanimity. Whatever is present is all right.

A vast and thoroughgoing equanimity and peace of mind.

Where there is no disturbance. No struggle with what is the case. No struggles at all. Even the subtlest ones.

Resting in equanimity and peace of mind.

Like a Buddha.

Pleasant feeling is impermanent, conditioned, dependently arisen, having the nature of wasting, vanishing, fading, and ceasing.

The painful feeling and the neutral feeling, too, are impermanent, conditioned, dependently arisen, having the nature of wasting vanishing, fading and ceasing.

When a well-taught person perceives this, he or she becomes dispassionate toward pleasant feelings, dispassionate toward painful feelings and dispassionate toward neutral feelings.

Being dispassionate, his or her lust fades away, and with the fading away of lust, he or she is liberated.

When liberated, there comes to him or her the knowledge that he or she is liberated. He or she now knows, “Birth is exhausted, the holy life has been lived, done is what was to be done, there is no more of this to come.” The Buddha, Majjhima Nikaya 146

Want to Know More?

This is Part Three of the three-part “Peace of Mind” series.  Part One: Your Brain and Emotions.

Part Two: Why We Get Upset.

© Rick Hanson, PhD, 2008

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