99 Problems But Resilience Aint One of Them: 4 Takeaway Insights From Rick Hanson's "Stress-Proof Your Brain"
Now, you might have a bunch of other problems right now, but freedom, food and physical safety probably aint three of them. You might have financial, vocational, relational problems. You might have physical ailments that are unhealable by conventional means. You might have emotional, spiritual problems, things that cannot even be adequately defined AS a problem. You might even have existential problems (which, contrary to popular belief, are not luxury issues resolved by a lifetime supply of kleenex, but are genuinely painful spiritual realities!), and you're looking for something, anything to distract or amend your awareness of that sting of wanting-it-to-go-away.
But one thing is sure: it takes enormous courage to admit that you aren't very resilient to the slings and bows of outrageous fortune. I grant you that you may be resilient as hell. But I doubt it. Because - well, let's look at our situation here, as I best understand it, and see how courageous admitting to problems really is:
I imagine that you who are reading this have a pretty good quality of life problems. Resilience won't be likely to be high on the list of priorities. If you have internet connection, as of October 2014, then congratulations: you are the top wealthy third of humanity. We who are connected suffer a astonishing quality of problems, but lack of resilience isn't one of them, right? Right?
Especially in the West, and the privileged enclaves of India, China, and the other small outposts of the middle classes and up-and-coming middle classes, the kinds of problems we suffer from are chronic and persistent. And as Rick Hanson gently explains using the metaphor from Buddhism of training the mind, the human soul is designed to deal with immediate and transitory stress.
We can cope with agony and triumph. We can deal with intensity. Cataclysm is a no-brainer. But put us, the middle classes of the world, in an environment where stress is invisible, chronic, persistent, and emotional/relational in nature, and we simply fall apart. Short term or long term, we interpret threat as the sabre tooth tiger of our ancestral evolutionary heritage, and everyday sniping wears us down. We die of a thousand cuts.
So these words are intended as a kind of Cliff's Notes of resilience. I want you to find empowerment from reading these. Not the kind of new-age empowerment that involves dramatic big changes, but the empowerment of your will and heart to become inspired to practice, grow strong, and be good. Because virtue is a just matter of practice, right?
Let's look at the nuts and bolts of Rick Hanson's audio program, then.
First, (and simplistically) we have three nervous systems, not one. We have:
A. Social instinct. We have a brain which connects and affiliates with others. This is a need. Without connection and love, human babies die. And likewise adults. Hanson calls it the affiliative system.
B. Security instinct. We have a parasympathetic nervous system and limbic system which avoids danger. Hanson calls it the avoidant system. This records all trauma and problems and brings them up as needed.
C. Sexual and creative instinct. We have a sympathetic nervous system and primitive brain which pulls us to nourishment and what is good for us. Hanson calls this the attractive system, but this system is the connective tissue of society, family, business, mastermind groups, and lovers - when they work well! And this attractive system is modified and adapted by the affiliative and avoidant system.
So we have three basic instinct. The secret to stess-proofing your brain, then is to pacify and nourish these systems. By "pacify" I mean, to tone down their extreme reactions. By "nourish", I mean, to prime them with positive emotions and focus of perception.
Hanson suggests, then, we do the following:
The takeaway insights?
First, lovingkindness is the master pacifier for negative emotions. This much is clear.
Second, the social instinct is the visible expression or face of our nature, and it is greatly modified by security feelings of fear/trust, and sexual/creative feelings of craving/disgust.
Third, most people don't really know what they want, because their sexual/creative instinct is hyped up on craving and disgust, rather than balanced with contentment and appreciation. Furthermore, this suggests that the key to creativity is the cultivation of appreciation, contentment, and gratitude.
Fourth, feelings of being unsafe and insecure completely shut down the human personality and make expression of the other instincts (sexual and social) inhibited or impossible. So the primary focus of resilience is cultivating feelings of being loved, secure, trusted, safe, respected, honored, and stable. Furthermore, stability AS an inner sense of safety is the foundational assset of a good childhood. If one feel stable and safe, one will seek to create, have healthy relationships, and affiliate wisely.
Now, I understand you will find this a lot to take in. Rick Hanson guides us through these ideas experientially using guided meditations. This makes it easy to listen to but hard to practice without the audio, and it's important to process these ideas rationally and verbally in order to integrate them. For me, by writing about these ideas, I clarify them in myself. For you, reading about these ideas, which are basic to human nature, will remind you of what you already know to be true about yourself.
I hope you have read this and said to yourself "Wow, I am really emotionally secure, creative, and resilient! That is so cool."
But if you've read this and said "Wow, I have some work to do!" then you are not alone. I am becoming more deliberate, disciplined and resilient every day, thanks to these practices. And because I find them to be good for me, I now share my understanding of them here with you.
May you be free of problems.
In the immortal words of the Buddhist tradition:
May you be well.
May you be happy.
May you be safe.
May you be at peace.
May you know lovingkindness.