Digital Altruism

Cultivating compassion in the 21st century.

Making Love with Your Bliss

"I want to do to you what spring does with the cherry trees."

(Cherry Blossom image)
Spring has sprung with a leap and a bound. Sooner it seems, than in previous years. The unseasonably warm weather means, among other things, that the cherry trees are blooming earlier than usual.  Why does this matter and how does it relate to nurturing your bliss? It matters because by April 7th, when the National Cherry Blossom Festival commences, many of the trees will have already blossomed. Much like the untimely cherry blossoms, events happen in our lives that take us by surprise. We think we've got the future planned and suddenly, nothing's the way we thought it would be. Our inability to respond to life's unexpected twists and turns can derail us from folliwng our own path. So, how can we gain a foothold in life's swiftly changing current?

Though many of us are familiar with the idea of living in the present moment, or "being present," if we are honest, many of us would have to admit that we spend a great deal of time in "our heads", mulling over the past or worrying about the future. How can we break that worry-habit so that we enjoy the present moment __ those cherry blossoms in our lives?

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The contemplative teacher Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche once suggested we consider nagging thoughts and worries as similar to "apps,"; that is, things we can turn on or off at will. In today's media saturated climate, with apps every which way we turn, this is a compelling and powerful metaphor. Let's think it through together. If you could sit down and create an app called Worry, what would it look like? Go ahead, close your eyes and try it. Mine would have a big red "W". It would flash like a siren and sound like one too.

Okay, now let's open this imaginary Worry app. What do you see inside? Faces of your loved ones? Bills to pay? Deadlines to meet? Again, take a moment and scroll through the worries. Take all the time you want. Good. Guess what you get to do next? Close it. That's right, can you see the little button with the word "cancel" on the top left hand corner? Just touch it. Watch the program close down until it is nothing but a small square on the surface of your smart phone. Let it blend in with all the other colorful squares.

 We could stop there, but instead let's envision an antidote to worry, an app named "Calm Abiding." Clear your mind, think of the word, calm abiding, close your eyes and see what image appears. On your mark, get set, visualize.

 After you've created the icon for your app, open it and look around. Spend some time exploring.  Everyone's calm abiding app will be unique, but one thing they should all have in common is a feature that supports the silencing of mental chatter. Let's call it a "thought-dissolving" feature. This feature comes in many varieties, but rather than blocking, suppressing, or repressing thoughts, the goal of this feature is to keep you from getting caught up in them. One of the most popular varieties of this feature is focused attention. To build this technology into your calm abiding app, chose something to focus on (for example, your breath, an image, or symbol) and resolve to return your attention to it whenever you find you've drifted into a thought. The object serves as an anchor to steady your mind, much the same way an anchor keeps a boat from drifting at sea.

 You'll want to use your calm abiding app frequently,  at least once per day, more often if possible. Be consistent with it.  Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist who investigates the way thoughts and feelings shape our brain, has found that regular meditation practices such as calm abiding are  "neural shock absorbers" providing us with the means to find peace amid the turbulence of daily life.2 Dr. Hanson has created an application called Buddha's Brain to support such practices. On that note, let's close down our own imaginary calm abiding app, placing it somewhere front and center, where you can access it quickly and easily. Excellent. Now that we've engaged in the antidote, we can leave our apps behind and return to the present moment.

      "I want to do to you what the spring does with the cherry tree." 1

The words of the poet are provocative, mysterious, promising. How can we apply these words to our own lives? This season, do yourself a favor. Go outside and find a tree, any tree will do. Sit down in a comfortable position, perhaps resting your back along the tree trunk. Now, ask yourself the following question: How can I nurture my own blossoms? Unlike the cherry trees, you have the capacity to use your mind to nourish your life. You can make it more beautiful each and every day through paying attention to the quality of your thoughts. Use this season to turn off the Application of Worry, regularly engage in calm abiding, and then tune into your heart's desires. Make love with your bliss, indulge your creativity, procreate beauty: the world needs it. 

1. Pablo Neruda

2. Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Stress-Proof Your Brain: Meditations for Rewiring Your Neural Pathway to Stress Relief and Unconditional Happiness

Dana Klisanin, Ph.D., a visiting scholar at Saybrook University, is an integral psychologist specializing in the use of arts and media to promote altruism and compassion.

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