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Cultivating Our Unshakable Core, Connecting With Our "Inner Yoda" (and don't bet against humanity)

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul. Invictus, William Ernest Henley


Yesterday my brain felt like a ping pong ball was lose in it.  It bounced over there, then back here…all over. Nerve wracking. The cause seems to be getting ready to facilitate a Better Angels “workshop” (bridging the political divide). 

Though I have facilitated often, I have not done this workshop and it’s deeply significant to me. I want to show up, I want to do it well.


At one point, I caught myself bouncing all over the place and said to myself, “Stop, what is the most important thing you can do right now – is it read over the script, look over the PowerPoint, get out announcements, what?


The answer surprised me.  It was none of that hustle and bustle, rather it was to get re-connected to my “unshakable core.”  I take that term – unshakable core, from Dr. Rick Hanson, a neuropsychologist and author of several books including one about resilience.  John and listened to him speak on a zoom call recently which reminded me of the importance of cultivating our unshakable core and having ways of reconnecting to it.


Now, I have been in contact with that core before.  It’s calm, it’s strong, it’s joyful and sort of Yoda-like. Once I had a dream in which I could see me, June, carrying something precious.  I was so nervous I was going to drop it.  The dreamer could see and notice June worrying.  But I, the dreamer, could also see deeper and spot that inner Yoda-part, the one who was saying, “she gets worried sometimes, but here I am, it’s all fine.” That’s one way I relate to the unshakable core, my inner Yoda.


I can build that core by doing things like noticing that I am in this moment safe, I have enough, I am connected to people I love and care about and who love and care about me.  My basic needs for safety, satisfaction, and belonging are all in decent order. Fear is a belief that we don’t have the resources to deal with whatever potential threat we believe we are facing.


What’s the threat for me in this situation?  That the workshop will be a failure – that some unexpected issue will occur, and I won’t know how to respond, “just right,” that I’ll forget something important, that I won’t show up as a Braver Angel, that it won’t make a difference. That no one will come.


And yes, reviewing the script and PowerPoint and encouraging people to come are all helpful to address the threat, but, for me, the most important thing to work on was getting reconnected to the core, or John and I sometimes say, “the Source.”


What I did to cultivate and reconnect with my core (after reviewing that I was safe, satisfied, connected) was go for a short hike.  I was intentionally looking for the good.  Now let me take a little lateral here.  We all know about the negativity bias at this point, that our brains are wired to look for threats and often go off on a catastrophizing trip before we know it. And we can re-wire it structurally and functionally.  We know the term for that – neuroplasticity. We know how it happens – neurons that fire together, wire together. But how do we deal with it?


One of the phrases that Rick Hanson uses describes the problem perfectly – our brains are like Teflon for the good and Velcro for the bad. And he goes on to say, the solution is analogous to gardening.  Plant a lot of flowers. 


What does that mean, plant a lot of flowers? It means intentionally directing our attention to the lovely, the good, the beautiful. But there's more we can do. Afterwards we can practice remembering the good, sharing the good, luxuriating in the good, absorbing and engaging with the good.  The term for that deeper work of fully squeezing the juice out of the good is savoring. Fred Bryant was the researcher who discovered the power of savoring for building an unshakable core of calm, strength, and joy.



So that’s what I was doing on the hike – looking for the good and really taking it in.  Savoring it.  Hanson says an easy way to savor is to stick with the good we notice for the seconds it takes to take a deep breath and long exhale.  I noticed that when I did this, I felt calmer – of course, that sort of breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system.  And, yes, I felt happier and stronger.  The process seems…spiritual. It connects me to something beyond myself. It’s practical and yet transcendent.


Last night, at our weekly compassion circle where we talk about such things, I mentioned my ping pong brain, my fears, and my work to cultivate and re-connect with my unshakable core. The others in the circle started chiming in with some of the ways they savor.  Taking photographs -sharing photographs (I put them on an aura frame my kids gave me which sits prominently in the kitchen) of nature, of grandkids, of travelling, of important milestones.  Some kept cards which were meaningful to them and re-read them. Some took pictures in their minds of meaningful moments and re-visited them periodically.  (Fred Bryant offers other ideas which I will share in another blog when the time seems right.)


But for now, I’m back.  Seeing the good, taking it in, getting anchored and centered in my core. Physically we know the importance of the core, same for our spirit.  We want to optimize that center of our being.



How might we journey together to the Good Life by cultivating and reconnecting with our unshakable core?


And, just in case, you need some good stuff to tune in to AND savor, in terms of the world situation, here are some excerpts from a TED talk by Angus Hervey posted last month. When I read it, it makes me think of the poem Invictus and gives me hope and confidence – cultivates and re-connects me with that unshakable core.


 Everywhere we look, there are reports of decline. Are we headed for disaster? Well, your answer to that question probably depends on where you've been getting your news, because here are some other stories from the last 12 months.


Some other reports of decline that you may not have heard about. Last year, extreme poverty declined to its lowest level in human history, an estimated 8.4 percent. Deforestation across the entire Amazon basin declined by 55 percent and violent crime in the United States declined to its lowest level since the 1960s. In the last 12 months, a record number of countries have eliminated a disease, including, for the first time ever, Hepatitis C by Egypt and black fever by Bangladesh.


And global AIDS deaths have declined to their lowest level since the 1990s, down by more than two thirds since their peak. When I was in high school, that was the world's deadliest infectious disease. And now we have the power to end it. 


So maybe you've been feeling despair over climate change or the fear of fascism rising like Dracula from the coffin, of resource overshoots and political decay. But last year, carbon emissions in advanced economies declined back to the same level as 50 years ago. Cancer death rates in America and Europe declined again. And air pollution is now falling in 21 of the world's 25 biggest cities. Alongside those declines, other things have been on the rise. There are 50 million more girls in school today than there were just under a decade ago. And last year, 418 million of the world's children got fed at school. That is almost one in five. This year, it's going to be even more.


Since we were last all gathered here, millions of people have gained access to water. Tens of millions of people have gained access to electricity.


 [Snip]

In 2023, we installed so much wind and solar that it changed the trajectory of our climate future, with China’s carbon emissions now predicted to start falling as early as this year. In 2024, we are going to install enough global solar manufacturing capacity to reach our net-zero targets by the end of this decade.


A car powered by electrons was the world's best-selling vehicle last year, and batteries are now the fastest-growing technology since human beings made aircraft in World War II. We have crossed the threshold. There is too much momentum now to stop the transition to clean energy from happening.


I have two little girls, Lola and Cleo. Lola is four years old, Cleo turned three the other day. And the International Energy Agency says that based on current trends, by the time my girls are my age, the world's electricity and transportation systems are on track to be almost entirely fossil-fuel-free.


 We are not doomed. Did you know that 2023 was arguably the greatest year ever for conservation? We protected huge tracts of land in Alaska, the Amazon, southern Africa, and the entire Tibetan Plateau, which is an area larger than all of Western Europe. We created new marine protected areas off the coasts of Mexico, Chile, Panama, Dominica, South Georgia, Spain, Ireland, the Congo, Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia.


In the last 12 months, there have been hundreds of stories of cities being regreened, of farmland being rewilded, of rivers being cleaned up, islands being restored. And the populations of every single one of these species is now either recovering or on the rise. 


Look, I know that a lot of stuff is going wrong. You know that a lot of stuff is going wrong. This is not some weird attempt to cancel or balance out the bad news. But here's an idea. If we want more people to devote themselves to the task of making progress, then maybe we should be telling more people that it's possible to make progress. If you're halfway up the mountain, you don't just stare at the top and say, "Oh my gosh, it looks so steep." You look back and you remind yourselves how far we've already come.


In the last 12 months, despite all of the challenges, we have climbed a little further. So don't bet against humanity. In Nevada, they're using geothermal techniques to tap into the clean energy of our planet. On the border of Belgium and France, they're using bacteria to break down plastic.


In Shenzhen, they're delivering blood via drones. And in space, new satellites mean polluters no longer have anywhere to hide. We are launching 5,000-ton starships. We are making seven-billion- kilometer round trips to collect stardust from asteroids. 


We can perform miracles, enabling paralyzed people to walk by reading their brainwaves and sending the signals to their spine. We've mapped a quarter of the entire ocean floor, and NVIDIA’s new Blackwell chip has as many transistors in it as there are stars in the entire Milky Way.


In the last year, we started using CRISPR, genetic editing, to treat diseases like beta thalassemia and sickle cell disease. And we created the largest-ever atlas of human brain cells. We are using artificial intelligence to identify new drugs to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria, something that kills over a million people every year.


Two years ago, I almost lost my life to a bacterial infection. I got lucky. In the future, many more people will be able to say the same. I mean, we just used artificial intelligence to decipher the contents, the charred remains of the 2,000-year-old Herculaneum scrolls.


And, I don't know, maybe this is all boring to some of you, but to me, it really is indistinguishable from magic. Our scientific instruments are sensitive enough now to see plants speaking to each other. And to detect the gravitational waves from the collisions of supermassive black holes.


All of a sudden, we know that we are humming in tune with the entire universe, that each of us contains the signature of everything that has ever been. Progress is possible. Not all declines spell destruction. Not all rising levels result in loss. And sometimes there really are new things under the sun. These are the stories of the brave and the brilliant, and they also deserve our attention.

 

(Amen, don't bet against humanity) 

 

How do you cultivate and re-connect with your unshakable core, how do you take in the good and savor it?

 

 

 

 

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