Jonathan Robinson is a psychotherapist, best-selling author of 12 books, and a professional speaker from Northern California. He has made numerous appearances on the Oprah show, as well as many other national TV talk shows, and articles about him have appeared in USA Today, Newsweek and The Los Angeles Times. He co-hosts the podcast “Awareness Explorers” with author Brian Tom O’Connor. Through TV, live lectures and radio, Mr. Robinson has reached over 100 million people around the world. He is known for providing his audiences with immediately useful information presented in a fun and entertaining manner. His latest book is entitled “More Love, Less Conflict.” Other books by Jonathan include: Find Happiness Now: 50 Shortcuts for Bringing More Love, Balance, and Joy Into Your Life, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Awakening Your Spirituality, and Real Wealth: A Spiritual Approach to Money and Work.
John Pavlovitz is the author of the new book, Hope and Other Superpowers: A life affirming, love-defending, butt-kicking, world-saving manifesto. John is a pastor and blogger from Wake Forest, North Carolina. In the past two years his blog, Stuff That Needs To Be Said, has reached a diverse audience of millions of people throughout the world, with an average monthly readership of over a million people. His home church, North Raleigh Community Church, is a growing, nontraditional Christian community dedicated to radical hospitality, mutual respect, and diversity of doctrine.
As this year draws to a close, the holiday season is upon us. Christmas is both a materialistic celebration and a religious holiday—a convoluted intersection of opposing belief systems. But the real spirit of the season derives from a celebration of nature and the solstice’s pivot towards greater light—a celebration neither materialistic nor religious. It was spiritual.
It’s strange that religion and materialistic science—in conflict for centuries—can intersect at all, but one thing they have in common is that they are both in opposition to nature. While religion and spirituality sometimes overlap, they imply different things. Religion is generally belief-centric, dogmatic, and ideological, whereas spirituality is practice-oriented, in tune with the season, and experiential. These differences have significant ramifications.
Dr. Steve Taylor, author of Spiritual Science: Why Science Needs Spirituality to Make Sense of the World, writes, “Every culture needs a metaphysical system to make sense of the world, a belief system that answers fundamental questions about human life, the world and reality itself.” I had Dr. Taylor on Pathways Radio and Podcasts. We discussed these belief systems, as well as the growing role of spirituality.
“Spirituality wakes us up, opens us up to the aliveness and sacredness and nature, and reconnects us to the world,” Taylor wrote. Aside from dogma and morality, “[Traditional religions] encourage compassion and altruism, teach us to be co-operative rather than competitive, to be moderate rather than hedonistic, and tell us that we shouldn’t expect complete fulfillment in this life.”
Scientific materialism, on the other hand, is a reaction to religion. “Our culture is in thrall to a particular paradigm…which in its own way is just as dogmatic and irrational as a religious paradigm,” writes Taylor. “This is the belief system of materialism, which holds that matter is the primary reality…and that anything that appears to be non-physical—such as the mind, our thoughts, consciousness, or even life itself—is physical in origin, or can be explained in physical terms.”
Many people see materialism—which ultimately negates anything but the physical—as the only alternative to religion. Taylor calls this ‘scientism,’ which is dogmatic, like religion. This materialistic paradigm promotes rampant consumerism, hedonism, status-seeking, competitiveness, and environmental destruction. After all, if nature is but a biological machine whose sole function is to sustain us, then as long as we continue to survive, there is no inherent value in maintaining other species or their ecosystems. By placing God outside of Nature, religions support this attitude too.
There is a fundamental sense of meaninglessness that takes hold without spirituality, but Taylor is optimistic that we are heading into a post-materialistic phase, where there’s growing room for a spiritual worldview. This viewpoint honors the insights of philosophers, physicists, mystics, as well as spiritual traditions and indigenous cultures. “The idea that the essence of reality is a non-material, spiritual quality is one of the oldest and most common cross-cultural concepts,” writes Taylor, and he explains how modern science is converging with mysticism. Perhaps someday in the future we can move beyond a consumer holiday or celebrating the virgin birth of a savior, and return to one that honors the changing of the seasons, the return of the light, and a sense of connection with nature, each other, and all beings. Halleluiah!
Have you ever wondered why you’ve been feeling more anxious or depressed in the past couple years? Having more trouble sleeping? Feeling confused or overwhelmed by behavior that you can’t make sense of? If so, you may be a victim of “narcissistic abuse.” Author and counselor Meredith Miller, an expert on the subject (and recent guest on my Pathways Radio podcast), believes Narcissistic Abuse (NA) is a leading cause of loneliness, anxiety and depression in the world today, silently happening across interpersonal, familial and societal levels.
A silent pandemic of narcissistic abuse appears to be growing at exponential rates, as it’s being normalized by media and entertainment industries rewarded by corporations and institutions, and so shamelessly modeled by our bullying leader. One of the key markers is lack of empathy.
Miller writes, “We are living in a world run by the narcissistic and sociopathic values of many corporations, governments, schools, religious and spiritual organizations.” On the island of Maui, Monsanto is a perfect exemplar of unbridled narcissism in the corporate sector … putting profits above the health—and the democratically expressed will—of the people.
NA is one of the most insidious injustices because it leaves its victims less able to trust others, or their own judgment. Narcissists emotionally manipulate others through language designed to assert greater control. They make people feel helpless and isolated in order to foster a sense of dependency. Hallmark behaviors include verbal abuse, manipulation, emotional blackmail, lying, gaslighting, bullying and withholding. Statistics indicate 15% of population has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), but it is under-reported as these are not people who seek therapy.
We all have experienced narcissism, which is a natural stage of life…. for a two-year-old. Clearly, it’s a stage we are meant to outgrow with the help of decent parenting. But what if one or both of our parents is narcissistic or otherwise dysfunctional? Such families operate according to an unspoken set of rules. Children conform to these rules, but never cease being tormented by them because the rules block emotional access to their parents … and themselves. They become invisible—neither heard, seen, nor nurtured. Boundaries dissolve and they are used (or abused) to suit their parents’ whims.
Even if we’ve been free of NA in our families of origin or intimate partnerships, we are all experiencing narcissistic abuse these days, because our president has NPD. Gaslighting describes how narcissists try to make people think they are the crazy ones if they believe their eyes and ears. An narcissistic abuser like Trump is a master at gaslighting, constantly lying to deceive and scam or just to throw us off balance. It’s not hard to feel the depressing impact his deranged leadership is having on mental health in the USA and worldwide.
How can we heal from narcissistic abuse? What are antidotes to such self-centered madness? First, we need to have compassion for all of us having to deal with NA. Develop self-acceptance and commit to letting go of our own self-destructive habits and complicity. Deliberately practice empathy and compassion. Avoid giving special attention to the abuser or taking him seriously (perhaps this means taking a “news fast” for a while) in order to rebuild an internal sense of safety. It’s never too late to redefine your sense of self and commit to creating new and better boundaries. And vote for responsible government in 2018.
Sometimes we are taken over by a part of ourselves that we don’t want to recognize. Various “selves” can show up for different situations and relationships. “Something came over me,” we say. It can be a helpful part (altruistic empath) or a shadow side of our personality (self-centered narcissist, needy child). “Everyone carries a shadow,” Jung wrote, “and the less conscious of it we are, the blacker and denser it is.”
The myth of a unified self has us believe there should be one “real me” — a consistent face to the world, a projected self-image that we want others to see and believe. We expend great effort to pretend that’s who we are. But it’s not the whole story. Have you ever been surprised by how you acted, or felt confused, conflicted or uncertain about who you are or what you’re feeling? This thing we call ‘self’ is tricky. Many different and competing facets make for an often conflicted personality.
Subpersonalities are different aspects of a multi-faceted mind, each with a psychic life of its own. When we misunderstand or reject these energies, they become major obstacles to success and happiness. We easily become emotionally conflicted within ourselves.
The ego projects a mask over our whole set of subpersonalities in order to be as consistently attractive as possible. This is what you call your ‘personality.’ In the process we try to disown parts of ourselves that we are ashamed of or insecure about. But we can’t just claim one overarching “true self,” and discard the parts we’re not so proud of. Like it or not, we own it all.
To protect ourselves from disapproval (including our own), we suppress our insecurities by pretending they don’t belong to us and going numb. The needy inner child, the perfectionistic critic, the control freak — we don’t want to admit that we have such capacities. Meanwhile, the ego claims grandiose levels of our lofty aspirations. Oh, we do have good parts … it’s just not the whole story. Sometimes we are generous. Sometimes our compassionate selves are operative. And sometimes we are vengeful or unthinkingly selfish.
In order to evolve into a more integrated personality, we need to own as much of ourselves as we can. The more we shed light on all our parts, the less power the shadow will have. For instance, when the hurt inner-child starts acting out, when we are feeling needy or desperate, we may block feelings out of shame or embarrassment. But this doesn’t work because the child part runs off and disrupts things in an effort to somehow get what it needs. Inadvertently, this sabotages relationships and often generates psycho-physical symptoms like anxiety or depression or IBS.
Too often our lives are run by inner critics, taskmasters or perfectionists, and we are dominated by hidden parts. In this case, choices become blunted and limited — our inner and outer lives controlled by scared, unconscious, often angry, little ego-maniacs. But shaming and chasing away subpersonalities only makes them act up and get stronger. Try to accept and honor them. Listen to them when they are agitating and gently soothe them. Let your Compassionate Self say, “Come here little guy, sit on my lap and let me hold you.” Unconditional self-acceptance is courageous integration. As the I Ching says, love and no blame.
Everyone prefers happiness over suffering, but it can be difficult to steer our emotions and moods toward a happier state. According to evolutionary psychologist, Dr. Paul Gilbert, we are burdened with a big challenge he refers to as a “tricky brain!”
Why tricky? In his captivating book, “Mindful Compassion,” Dr. Gilbert explains that our brains have been shaped by evolution, which is not the most intelligent designer. We could have a better brain, if evolution were able to reorganize it (like rebuilding a software program from scratch), but evolution doesn’t work that way—it can only build newer brain functions on top of old, patching and extending things over time.
It makes sense that over millions of years, our brains have become rather unwieldy and unstable. The “old brain” continues reacting to jarring stimuli as if it were life-and-death, as if a saber tooth tiger were about to attack you from behind, instead of the reality: you lost our keys and are about to be late for an important meeting.
It’s like we have two brains – old brain and new brain. The old brain runs emotions, which guide our motives (social and otherwise) to help us get what we need and depend on for survival. Old brain mechanisms, on the other hand, evolved functions that direct the body to deal with threats, take shelter, find food, seek out a sexual partner, etc.
In the last million years, our brains have evolved in profound ways. With a growing neocortex, we became able to think, reason, and plan, enabling us to cooperate and communicate. However, this new brain isn’t foolproof or even 100% advantageous. Because of these abilities for thought and self-awareness, we become burdened with habits of ruminating, comparing, self-criticism and judgment—with emotional by-products like anxiety, vindictiveness or depression. Unlike other animals, humans can anticipate the possibility of starving to death or obsess on a fearful experience. As they say in 12-step meeting, “stinkin thinkin” can get us stuck in a loop until we find a way to intervene.
The two brains are linked and intertwined. The old brain can hijack the new brain, where all of its thinking and planning becomes enlisted by the survival fears of the old brain. Our thinking can become linked or looped into a stream of threat-fueled anxiety, anger, or worry.
As always, 80% of the solution lies in understanding the problem. We can have a better relationship with ourselves when we stop judging ourselves and develop compassion for ourselves, accepting the fact that our brains are replete with conflicting ideas, emotions, and desires. Tricky!
In “Mindful Compassion,” Dr. Gilbert teaches how to break self-destructive thinking cycles, reorganize the mind, and keep it on track for positive and constructive action. (My podcast talk with him is definitely worth a listen.)
For the sake of self-compassion—which, as Dr. Gilbert explains, is a healing balm for our suffering—it’s important to remember that your brain’s conflictedness is not your fault! Likewise, we are not responsible for the family system or society we were born into, so let’s have compassion for ourselves around that too! The great news is that we can learn to rewire our tricky brain by combining the skill of mindfulness and the power of self-compassion.
In a world of increasing polarization, there has never been a better time to learn the art of peacemaking. Most of us aren’t taught to manage our emotions or the emotions of others, especially people who see the world very differently. In this respect, we are emotionally incompetent and have difficulty coexisting with people who hold different values.
These days, families can be torn apart over conflicting beliefs. Peacemaking is a skill that takes practice. According to Doug Noll, author of De-Escalate: How to Calm an Angry Person in 90 Seconds or Less (whom I recently featured on my Pathways interview program), it can be learned, and can greatly improve your emotional intelligence.
What better time to practice this fine art than during the holidays? Imagine this: You’re sitting down to a feast with relatives, a group that includes a cantankerous right-wing uncle (the Republican elephant in the room). Suddenly, this uncle says something obnoxious and hateful. Your first instinct is to problem-solve – to set things straight about the facts, dispute what he’s swallowed from Fox Fake News, etc. But things only get worse and he becomes insulting. An ugly argument ensues and you wonder if you can tolerate holidays with extended family anymore.
In our Pathways interview, Doug reveals how recent advances in neuroscience confirm that we are still largely emotional creatures, with a newer and less compelling rational brain. Emotional intelligence is a learning process, not a facility that is intrinsic by nature. The only way to calm your uncle down is to speak to his emotions, not logic. Never argue against an emotional belief, Doug says, because logic and reasoning cannot change an emotional mind. Arguing against emotional beliefs only strengthens, rather than weakens, them.
Imagine being able to withstand your uncle’s insults, provocations and misinformation without losing your cool. With a little skill, such holiday dread can be avoided. Using Doug’s three easy steps, you can increase empathy, reduce reactivity, increase enjoyment with family, and restore peace at the dinner table (and elsewhere in your life).
First tip: Ignore the words (or so-called “facts”) and listen only to the underlying emotions behind what the person is saying. Express a guess at what they are feeling; the most common emotional reactions are anger, frustration, betrayal, anxiety, fear, sadness or feeling unloved. Label their emotion in words (as in, “you are feeling frustrated”). This helps them gain clarity and provides them the emotional satisfaction of being heard. Rapidly, you will discover that your uncle (or whoever) is calming down and maybe even able to listen a little bit. Only now might there be an opening for problem solving, coming to some level of agreement or understanding.
In essence, the art of emotional intelligence is being able to listen for emotions and using language to keep yourself centered, help you navigate through conflict successfully, resolve issues of contention, and develop deeper empathic connections. With this simple method you can continue to care for someone whose perspective clashes with your own, without becoming derailed or upset. We can feel heard and respected despite differing beliefs, and do the same for others. (There’s so much more in the Pathways interview with Doug Noll… I hope you check it out!)
We are living in a time of accelerating change and uncertainty, which can feel chaotic and threatening. Animals, including us humans, have an instinctive tendency to automatically react to sudden changes as threats. Throughout most of humanity’s existence, life-threatening dangers were prominent and a hair-trigger reactivity served to protect us in a world that included saber-toothed predators. Humans haven’t changed much biologically in the last hundred thousand years. Our nervous systems are wired to fight, flee, or freeze at a moment’s notice.
When triggered by fear or anxiety, we react as though we are face-to-face with real danger even if there is none. This may be our automatic way of operating, but it is not the only way. We can learn to intervene with a beam of conscious awareness and interrupt our automatic reactions. We can train our tricky brains to go beyond fight-or-flight. There is another way, however.
The situations we face nowadays rarely, if ever, involve life-or-death, split-second decisions. In the absence of real life-threatening danger, we are free to become more creative and develop potentials that go beyond merely ensuring survival. Rather than feeling threatened, we can come to regard change as a friendly force. “Change is my friend,” is a visionary belief that is promoted in the Belief Engineering chapter of my book, Great Decisions, Perfect Timing.
People who see change as a positive force are more optimistic and can enjoy the up-and-down flux of life. In order to embrace change, we need to develop a more fluid relationship to time. People who fear change essentially want time to stand still. Their subconscious wish is for the illusory safety of a fixed and stable universe. The mechanical division of time into hours, minutes, and seconds – brought about by the recent invention of clocks – clogs the spontaneous flow of life energy. In order to fully relax, visionaries find ways to free their minds from the domination of linear time. They understand the value of “time outs” to intentionally loosen that domination by society’s over-controlling mechanical approach. This is good, but in actuality, there is nothing to escape, because if we take our eyes off the clock, our experience of time has a natural plasticity to it.
When we enjoy life, time seems to go too fast. When we are in resistance to circumstances, it seems to crawl. As so many great teachers have shown, the secret of joyful living is to maintain awareness of what is happening in the one time that is real – the present moment – and forget about future and past. To improve our strategic thinking and decision-making, we need to let go of trying to control things long enough to give our intuition a chance to be actively receptive.
Visionary decision-makers stay aware of how life is always in flux. The ultimate solution to “time management” is to develop a lifestyle where we can better transcend the measuring and parceling of time, and strengthen our intuitive sense of timing. Good timing, a fundamental component of every strategic decision, is the secret of surfing unpredictable waves of change. When we come to regard change as a friendly force, the success brought about by our improving sense of timing will provide encouragement to cultivate intuitive intelligence all the more … and life becomes an adventure rather than a hunkering down.
The I Ching, or Chinese Book of Changes, is the oldest of books and a system channeled 3000 years ago by sages to help emperors make better strategic and timing decisions. For thousands of years, this Taoist classic influenced campaigns, relationships, literature and art. I discovered it at age 19 and it has played a profound role in my life, providing guidance for decisions that logic can’t handle (and we know there are many of these in life).
My first encounter was as personally earthshaking as it was hilarious. A carefree philosophy undergrad at UC, Berkeley, one day I was flirting with a cute girl who showed me the ancient book. Furthermore, she offered to demonstrate how the system works. Although I was skeptical of what appeared to be a fortune-telling game, I was intrigued by her charms, so I agreed (but secretly making fun of the whole thing).
She asked me to jot down a personal dilemma or subject of interest and toss three coins six times. As I did, she drew a “hexagram” based on the way the coins landed. My first I Ching reading ignored my flippant question and caught me off guard with its response. I got Hexagram No.4, entitled “Youthful Folly,” about “the foolish student who lacks respect for the teacher.” I was expecting something I could have a laugh about, but not at my own expense! Indeed, the dignified I Ching reflected my shallowness and offered me a bit of wisdom about growing up. I was making fun of it and it came back and made fun of me!
Now my curiosity was aroused. I asked my beautiful new friend if I could try it again. My next query was just as trivial, but my attitude was different. This time I was testing the I Ching to see what would happen. Yup. Once again it ignored my trivial query and replied with text “questioning the sincerity of the seeker.” Somehow I was not too surprised the I Ching was reflecting my energy again. I tested it and it tested me back!
That’s when I surmised that the I Ching provides an energetic mirror from its set of 64 hexagram “archetypes,” and reflects motivation and attitude as much as anything else. It can deliver helpful insights and advice only if the seeker is sincere. I learned that the value of an I Ching reading is not about the future or even specific instructions. Rather, it stimulates the intuition. By forcing you to read between the lines, you think outside the box and have to trust your own intuition.
That fateful college day was certainly pivotal to my future as an I Ching author and multimedia I Ching developer. I lost the girl but I fell in with the I Ching! This transformational education did not happen in philosophy class, but it was a learning experience that changed my life more than all of my classes.
Since that day some 40 years ago, I’ve used the I Ching as an intuitive decision-making aid to help me venture beyond black-and-white thinking and develop superior timing. I credit the I Ching for helping me make better decisions throughout my life, including success as an entrepreneur, and more gracefully muddling my way in and out of relationships. As the I Ching says, “Love and no blame.”
Your beliefs — about yourself and the world you live in — are the lens through which you experience life. Every thought, every feeling, every decision and every action you take, arises out of your beliefs. Many are so deeply ingrained that we take them for granted as representing reality and rarely question their validity. We act on beliefs as though they are a fixed part of us; while our subconscious selects information that reinforces what we already believe.
Eastern masters have long advised, “Cease to cherish opinions.” From the Zen perspective, all beliefs are little more than current opinions — based on the best perceptions we can make, given our upbringing and conditioning, and what we would like to believe. Around age 3 or 4 we begin to make conclusions about our environment and form core beliefs to make sense of the world. Such deeply entrenched opinions can continue to operate subconsciously for a lifetime.
Looking at beliefs as opinions illuminates their impermanent nature. As I discuss in my book, Great Decisions, Perfect Timing, every belief is a choice — one we are making now or made years ago. Recognizing the nature of beliefs helps us be more open and flexible; and able to allow our beliefs to naturally evolve based on new learning experiences. If we want to make better decisions for ourselves, we must be willing to reconsider what we think is true and grow beyond the limitations imposed on us by our current beliefs. The important question now is: How aware are you of your beliefs, especially your fears? Often the vigor with which we defend against our fears unwittingly locks us into the belief behind them. More than any other mental structure, your beliefs and the attitudes they derive from define what is possible for you. Beliefs can be a major limiting factor in getting what you want.
An important part of self-knowledge, it is necessary to take full ownership of what you believe – something most people actually never do. For one thing, it requires the courageous humility of self-examination. To make things more difficult, many of us were taught that certain beliefs are sacred and that even to question them is a sin. Well, the wise and the brave are willing to question and test everything they believe in order to make better, more conscious decisions. Can your current beliefs pass two critical tests? Are they 1) based in reality as best you understand it now (have you studied?) and 2) do they help the realization of your higher desires, your aspirations? If you answered no in either case, it’s time for some more experimenting and learning! Nothing is more important than having success-functional beliefs!
A skillful way to look at beliefs is to take them as current operating assumptions, rather than ‘facts’ or articles of faith you must cling to. They should work for you, not you for them! Ultimately, we are responsible for our beliefs and the decisions we make from them. Believing itself is a choice, so decide wisely. Be sure to upgrade your beliefs as needed. Try and learn new things.