Monthly Archives: January 2017

Chocolate Peace of Mind

What is peace of mind? And how do I know when I have it?” is a question I’m often asked.

Unfortunately, words are insufficient to describe what peace of mind is. Thus using them will always wind up coming short of an accurate description. In this regard, peace of mind is like chocolate. Unless you’ve eaten it, you’ll never fully know how wonderful it is.

Although I’ve described peace of mind as something elusive, the truth is, we all have it. In fact, it’s our natural state. Like a long lost relative you’ve just met, peace of mind has always been there. Which means it’s waiting for us to discover.

This natural state has been buried under years and years of experiences. Think of peace of mind as the sun: Always shining and ever present. Clouds may cover the sun, so much so that we may not even see it. In this analogy the clouds are our conditioning, which is built up over our lifetimes. Nevertheless, the sun’s powerful glow is always there.

Perhaps you recall studying about clouds in one of your childhood science classes. While the fluffy floating pillows may at first all look the same, science has taught us there are multiple cloud types—many different kinds of clouds may be covering the vast radiant sun.

Similarly, multiple experiences may be clouding our ability to experience peace of mind: Painful memories, sad memories, distractions, addictions, wants, desires, and more. While whisking these away may not happen in an instant, we can begin today slowly moving them aside to uncover the peace of mind within.

Eventually, we’ll be able to access peace of mind, our natural state, with more frequency. The path of non-judgment is how we develop peace of mind.

What Is Non-Judgment?

Imagine you’re at your favorite restaurant. You’ve had a long day, and you look forward to unwinding with your favorite dish: Lasagna. You’ve thought about the comforting dish with its perfectly seasoned tomato sauce and the bubbling cheese on top. You take a seat at the dining table, which happens to be in the best spot in the house, and you place your order.

“I’m so sorry, we only make lasagna in small batches, and we’ve run out for the day,” the server tells you.

In this scenario, you have two choices:

Reject what is.
Accept what is.

The first choice, rejecting what is, is like a cloud. It’s based on our conditioning. The server’s news can trigger a series of thoughts rooted in our prior experiences.

Thoughts may rapid fire in our minds: I was looking forward to lasagna, this isn’t fair! Why does this always happen to me? The restaurant really needs to get its act together. This is just another piece of bad news for the day, and more.

Rejecting what is, is moving away from peace of mind and toward its opposite: Suffering. Suddenly, the restaurant experience is unpleasant or even infuriating. To return to our cloud analogy, your sun can be covered with a thin layer of clouds or fully-fledged thundershowers.

The second choice, accepting what is, is the state of non judgment. It will bring about peace of mind. While the news isn’t what we wanted to hear, we adjust to what is. We asked for what we wanted, which means we did our part. But once we have done this, we adapt.

Preferences Versus Expectations

Developing a non-judgment mindset requires us to shift from expectations to preferences.

In the restaurant scenario, we may prefer lasagna. But if we continue wanting it even after the server tells us it’s not available, we will suffer. Suffering is caused by expectations. We suffer because we expect things a certain way. And suffering is the opposite of peace of mind.

To shift from suffering to peace of mind requires moving away from expectations and toward preferences. We may prefer lasagna. But if it’s not available, we will see what other options there are, and enjoy our meal even if it wasn’t our first choice.

The bottom line is we can choose to cling to our expectations and suffer, or we can accept what is and experience peace of mind. This doesn’t mean we are complacent. If we can change a situation and improve it, then we should do so. But once we’ve done our part, we must let go of expectations. The path of non judgment applies to menu items at restaurants, relationships, careers, and more.

Developing a non-judgment mindset is simply returning to our natural state. While experiencing peace of mind may seem impossible, the good news is, it’s always been there. It is a beautiful gift waiting inside us, ready to unwrap.

Know More About The Trader

This is the true story of one of my clients. I’ve changed irrelevant details to protect his anonymity.

Nick and Marie wanted to marry but agreed to wait until he returned from Afghanistan—just in case. Fortunately, he returned, uninjured, no PTSD, just proud, especially in his uniform that he got freshly pressed for their reunion.

Soon after they married, she got pregnant, gained 60 pounds during the pregnancy, and after their son was born, lost only 20. That combined with their having been together for a while resulted in his not feeling sexually attracted to her.

When Trump got elected, their political differences, which seemed minor before, got inflamed. Marie felt that Hillary was too dishonest to vote for but Marie hated Trump so she didn’t vote. Nick voted for Trump. They fought bitterly about it—She was shocked that he would vote for Trump and Nick felt that she was narrow-minded, brainwashed by college and the media. Their fight about politics expanded in unexpected ways. For example, Nick thought they should join a church to give their son exposure to religion. Marie, who had been neutral on that before, had gone to a Women’s March and came to believe that Catholic churches were too racist, sexist, and homophobic and she refused to expose her son to church.

They’ve had ten sessions of couples counseling but privately believe it’s hopeless. He has consulted a divorce attorney who warned him that if he divorced, because she’s a stay-at-home mom and hasn’t worked in two years, he’d probably have to give up a big chunk of his $90,000 salary in alimony and child support. Living in San Diego, he was having a hard enough time making ends meet as it is, so he has tentatively decided to stay and keep trying with the marriage counselor.

But Nick is finding himself wanting to spend little time with Marie, so he spends much time with his son and on his new hobby—stock trading. Marie hates that, understandably–They have only $20,000 in savings. He counters that he has earned all that money. She yelled, “You only earn it because I stay at home with the baby. You can’t gamble away our security!” And indeed, in the first month of trading, he, like the vast majority of traders, has lost money, $5,000 to be precise.

But he can’t make himself stop, in part to punish Marie for being tough on him and for her refusing to get a job to contribute to the family income.

He’s also started an extra-marital affair.

The takeaway

Disputes about sex, religion, money, and politics, especially in the aftermath of the Trump win, can take a toll on a relationship.

What advice would you give to Nick? To Marie? Would you simply say, “You need to openly but tactfully communicate?” Or would you offer a suggestion? For example, might you ask them to shop for a church that might be comfortable for both of them? Ask them to try new tactics to resurrect their sex life? Ask her if and how she’d like to lose weight? Ask him to list the risks and rewards of having an affair versus staying monogamous versus divorcing her? Would you try to get him to stop trading stocks? If so, how might you word it?

Know More Why Do People Lie

“I always lie”, one of my patients said to me. What was I meant to believe? If they were telling the truth then they weren’t lying. Which meant they were lying when they said they always lie.

Since November 8th what is a lie has taken center stage in our country, perhaps in the world. Lying has always been part of who we are. We’ve all lied. And that’s the truth. Some lies are benign, like when we say something like “That dress looks great on you!” when it really doesn’t. We say a white lie like that to save someone’s self-respect.

But there are other lies designed to steal and not save: strategic lies calculated to deceive another person or group for personal gain. For example, Bernie Madoff created an exclusive investment fund for the ultra-wealthy. His brilliant investing seemed impermeable to the cyclical downs of the market. But Madoff was really brilliant at lying. His Ponzi scheme was revealed with the collapse of the economy in 2008: Madoff’s fund had lost 65 billion dollars. People lost millions, some their life savings. At the age of 71, Madoff was sentenced to 150 years in prison. At his trial not a friend, family member, or other supporter had submitted any letter on behalf of Madoff’s character or contributions to the community.1 Society does not like liars. We have to be able to trust.

We call people who set out to strategically lie to us “con artists”, con being an abbreviation for confidence. The skilled con artist uses Theory of Mind with great cunning, instilling confidence and trust in their target. They manipulate human behavior to their gain. But the underlying feature with strategic lying is often more than money: it’s to gain or maintain influence and power.

Strategic lies are all over the internet, designed to entrap another person into giving money or divulging their secrets. You’ve seen them, hopefully laughed at them, and quickly deleted them; “I am in Portugal and need a kidney transplant. The medical cost is so much less here in Portugal, but my time is running out. Please send me money so I can get my kidney.” Or, “Congratulations, you have won the Lottery. Your check is waiting. Please send us your bank account information so we can deposit your winnings.” Or one of my current favorites, “This is the IRS with a warrant for your arrest for unpaid taxes.”

Strategic lies can be remarkably successful. According to a US government report on internet crime, Americans lost $198.4 million to Internet fraud in 2006.2 Internet scams stole $12.4 billion dollars in 20133, and in 2015 $21.84 billion was pick-pocketed from global credit card and debit card fraud4. Today the FBI even has a designated Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Our desire to be successful can be a double-edged sword, often exploited by people who specialize in tapping into our need to be valued and valuable. That is the message of most modern marketing and advertising- if you use our product you will be perceived as more valuable. The wish to be valued by others makes us ripe fruit to be deceived. Most of the world’s largest advertising agencies hire anthropologists to shed light on how the human mind ticks.

Buy this deodorant to be more accepted. Wear these clothes and you will be hot. Use this credit card and everyone will think you’re successful. We sure do care about what others think of us: as a nation we spend millions in the process of trying to influence others. Join this club and you will be special.

Right now it is hard to know who is lying, who is not lying, why those who lie are lying, and what does it mean to call someone who tells the truth a liar? Think about this from your own experience. Were you ever accused of doing something you knew you hadn’t? Taking a cookie, dissing a friend, cheating on a loved one, talking to the Russians, being accused of lying that someone was talking to the Russians. Who is telling the strategic lie? What does the liar want to gain? Or is it just a white lie to save face, or simply an alternative fact? We have always counted on the Press and their professional integrity to discern the truth. But even many of them are being called liars.

The uncertainty from this not knowing places us all at enormous risk: risk of becoming so afraid we divide into groups. Those who believe what we believe and those who don’t. Retreating into the safety of our perceived allies and suspecting anyone with a different perspective. Not knowing breeds fear and suspicion. People we never even noticed, people we once considered friends, can become potentially menacing and dangerous, threatening to subvert the basic foundation of our beliefs. We’ve seen this before throughout the centuries. Anyone who is not in our group is against us.

There is some deep evolutionary brain science behind these divisions, a topic I will discuss in a future blog. We need to know who to trust. Lying erodes trust. We are desperate to trust. This very desperation can make us irrational, impulsive, limbic.