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The Soft Alert, Steadiness of Being a Ninja in Our Practices of Wholeness with Rick Hanson, Ph.D.

Program Number: 3699

The study of meditation has demonstrated that sustained, long-term practice can alter the brain markedly. These changes bring greater resilience and well-being. It’s said that even brief meditative practices can change areas of your brain involved with attention, body awareness, emotional regulation, and a sense of self. This deep dialogue explores some practical practices of how the brain, mindfulness, and meditation are interconnected and how these practices can free us from needless suffering and conflict. Hanson reminds us to not “add-on” to the inevitable pain of life. “The end of suffering is to replace it with love, wisdom, and joy. As we cultivate these various inner strengths, virtues such as patience, respect for others, commitment to social justice, caring about non-human animals, gratitude, our own wellbeing, and mindfulness, we become much more resilient, we recover faster from loss and trauma, and we become much more able to overflow abundantly to help other people.” He also points out that prior to the rise of agriculture and city-states, humans lived in small tribes of 20 to 40 people. He says, “Now we need to learn how to reestablish those objective conditions of healthy human politics, notably common truth, common welfare, and common justice. We can see how authoritarians attack truth as fast as they can whether it’s in a family system, a bully in a school, or a President in the Whitehouse. That’s why we have to vigorously stand up for truth.” It’s a false dichotomy to separate the person from the political. Hanson helps us to be clear, strong, centered, and stable no matter what’s swirling around us (like a ninja warrior) with seven practices. He says our mind/brain is like a garden and is a very fertile soil for weeds. “That’s its negativity bias. That’s why it’s important to cast seeds of flowers on your mental garden and then help them grow and use them to crowd out weeds over time. It isn’t that weeds are bad but because we’re interested in a life that’s not afflicted with suffering and all kinds of neurotic reactions to others.” He encourages us toward the upper reaches of our human potential, that’s full of profound contentment and a radiant, spacious, lovingness toward other people and to be like a ninja in our own meditative practice: a soft, alert steadiness. (hosted by Justine Willis Toms)


Rick Hanson, Ph.D. is a psychologist with a deep interest in neuroscience and mindfulness. He is a senior fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California Berkeley and creator of the year-long course The Foundations of Well-Being.

He is the author of many books including:

  • Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (New Harbinger 2009)
  • Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time (New Harbinger 2011)
  • Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence (Harmony Books 2013)
  • Meditations to Change Your Brain – CD Set (Sounds True 2009)
  • Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength and Happiness (Harmony Books 2018)
  • NeuroDharma: New Science, Ancient Wisdom, and Seven Practices of the Highest Happiness (Harmony Books 2020)

To learn more about the work of Rick Hanson go to www.rickhanson.net.

Topics explored in this dialogue include:

  • What is meant by titling the book NeuroDharma
  • How life is full of the pain of loss and change however suffering is something we add
  • How cultivating mind-trainings we can become much more resilient and recover faster from loss and trauma
  • How, for 300,000 years, our brain’s default is set to be more alert to negativity than positivity
  • Why we need to expand our notion of “our tribe.” Before the onset of agriculture, humans lived in small bands of 20 to 40 people.
  • What are the many contemplative practices of the world’s traditional religions
  • How the 7 practices guide us in practical ways in how the body and the brain operate together
  • Hanson reveals, in detail, the 7 practices: Steadiness, lovingness, fullness, wholeness, nowness, allness, and timelessness
  • How all meditation practices fall into 3 kinds of buckets: 1) Be with your experience fully without trying to change it, 2) let go of tension in your body and let go of thoughts that are harmful 3) grow the good.
  • How tending a garden is a good metaphor for three methods of mediation: 1) just be with the garden 2) pull weeds 3) grow flowers
  • What is meant by “installing neuroplasticity”
  • How is beingness like eddies in a river: empty of solidity. empty of absolute, and self-causing existence. Humans can be likened to an eddy in a stream, a swirling pattern organized for a time and will disperse in time
  • How each of our lives is at the emergent edge (the front edge of now) of the ever-unfolding universe
  • Why we need to employ an immediate circuit breaker for helpless outrage
  • How consciousness can be compared to a windshield in a car with some thickness to it. We have a split second to shift from naming, judging, and clinging in order to move further up the mountain of awakening
  • What was the lesson Hanson learned from the Dalai Lama’s bodyguard
  • How a distracted mind will go to the negative bias
  • What is the antidote to the whole culture being bombarded by images of fear

Host: Justine Willis Toms   Interview Date: 2/24/2020   Program Number: 3699

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