The Revolutionary Potential of Mistrust: 3 Unconscious Stories That Cause Suffering

I’m about to explain something that might seem revolutionary.

When I first saw what I’m about to share, I didn’t actually understand how important it was. That was until it started having a dramatic and positive effect on my experience. 

What I’m talking about isn’t special, but it’s very profound. Yet your initial knee-jerk reaction, like mine, might be to dismiss it. I would, however, warn against that. 

I’m talking about three simple words; mistrust your thoughts.

See, at different points in my life I, like you, have felt trapped by many things. Time, money, relationships, illness, fears – the hypothetical list could go on forever. As a result, I have suffered. But deep down I have never truly been trapped. I’ve only felt and thought I was

The only thing that ever traps anyone is the story they tell themselves. I know that sounds like a platitude, but before you angrily change tabs for a rage scroll through social media, hear me out. 

Obviously, there are physical trappings in life. A man with his leg stuck in a bear trap is quite clearly trapped. I’m not about to walk past him in the woods and say, “I respect the fact that you think your leg hurts, dude, but you just think you are trapped, you’re actually free.” I like to think that I’m not an asshole. A response like that would not be compassionate and shows the social skills of a giant panda (weird reference, I know…. google it later). 

If, however, that which was trapping him was literally a story, then yes, I might suggest that he try a little bit of mistrust on for size. 

Pain and suffering are not the same thing. Pain is an immediate sensation while suffering is a response to pain, it is a meta-experience about the pain. Most often that experience comes in the form of rumination – or as I like to say: T.R.I.P.S: Totally Random Imaginary Painful Stories.

You can use the acronym or throw it away. You can even just think about it literally, like a bad trip (or a nightmare). 

But why is mistrust revolutionary? Well that depends in what you mistrust.

The definition of revolution is “an overthrow or repudiation and the thorough replacement of an established government or political system.”

In this case, the established government are the trips, and that which overthrows this system is mistrust.

For years I’ve had chronic pain, apparently as a result of a developmental issue with my spine (but also, apparently maybe not). 

It sucks. But the pain itself is nothing compared to the trips I’ve had about the pain. The painful mental stories of injustice, responsibility and what-ifs. They are the real suffering. 

The principle of mistrust that I’m about to explore with you could be applied to stories about any problem: depression, anxiety, fears about work, insecurities in a relationship.  I’m going to use chronic pain as an example, simply because it’s something I still have to manage, the stories still come up from time to time, so it’s easier to write about. 

Which is why I’ll say it again; mistrust your thoughts.

The Ownership TRIP: “For years I’ve had chronic pain.”

As you might have noticed, even in an article about mistrusting your stories, I’ve already presented a number of stories. That’s just the nature of language and pronouns. It’s also why I’ve mentioned this story first. It’s the original problem. The first story that kicks off all others. This is MY pain, MY problem, MY anxiety. 

But let us introduce a little mistrust into the equation. Is this really my chronic pain? I mean, I didn’t choose to have chronic pain any more than I choose to catch a cold. Whatever the chronic pain is, it’s been decided by factors over which I had no control: developmental changes in my spinal, past experiences, genetics, (at times) poor medical advice, a psychological disposition etc. 

The feeling of chronic pain is just something that shows up in this complex interplay of sensory experiences. But so is the sound of a car horn on my walk to work, so is the colour of the wallpaper in my kitchen, so is the smell of coffee in the office. None of these are taken in and called MY car horn sound, MY white (or is it cream?) wallpaper, MY coffee scented office. 

We don’t consider these experiences worthy of ownership. Why? Because they’re not painful! Our minds hold onto the story of pain in an attempt to figure them out, and in doing so, they create suffering. Whatever the trip you’re on right now, discard it. Your depression is not yours and it is not you. If you want to say anything about it, just call it something passing through your experience. 

“For years I had chronic pain?” Really? I’m sure at some point in those years I was sleeping. Maybe I should say “for years I have been sleeping” or “for years I have been growing my fingernails,” or “for years I’ve been seeing yellow cars.” Was I really, though? Or was that just something that seemed to pass through my experience.

The Justice TRIP: “It’s not fair that I have chronic pain.”

The justice story is deeply embedded in our culture. Basically, it says that whatever my immediate circumstance is, is not fair. For the sake of clarity, I’m going to make a couple of distinctions.

(Disclaimer: To doubt the idea of what’s fair or not does not mean to indiscriminately allow injustices to occur. It’s not a reason or excuse for abusive behaviour towards yourself or others. If someone else tells you that something is unfair or unjust, respect their experience.)

Firstly, we have justice in a finite game. A game with a limited number of variables and a set of predetermined rules – such as the judicial system or a boxing match. We might call this “relative justice.” This justice is by no means perfect, and it’s often illogical and full of contradictions, but it can be useful for attempting to curb abuses of power (then again it can do the opposite of that too). 

What I’m talking about here is a personal justice trip that applies to my life and my circumstances. Concepts like pain, life or circumstances have no concrete and defined boundaries. They are what we might call an infinite game, or “absolute justice.” Unless you believe in an anthropomorphised (human-like) god, then no, there is no absolute justice. 

So, is it not fair that I have chronic pain? I don’t know. Is it fair that I was born in a country that was not war-torn? Is it fair that I’ve had period of physical or mental illness? Is it fair that I have fresh food in the fridge? Is it fair that one sperm reaches the embryo over another?

Here’s a story that better illustrates the point. It’s a Chinese Folk Tale, originally called Sai Weng Shi Ma (Old Man Lost Horse). It’s a useful way to poke some holes of mistrust in the justice trip. 

A poor old man lived on the Northern border of China. One day, his stallion (male horse) ran North of the China border into the Northern tribes, later to be known as Mongolia. In the old days, a horse was one of the most valuable and useful possessions that a person could have. Therefore, the other villagers thought this was a very bad misfortune.

The old man did not worry, and he thought that this may actually be a blessing. A few months later, the old man’s horse returned with a mare (female horse). The mare was pregnant and gave birth to a foal (baby horse). Now the man had three horses as depicted in the painting: (1) the black stallion; (2) the white mare; and (3) the greyish blue foal. All the villagers congratulated the old man.

The old man thought that this may actually turn out to be a cause of misfortune. Later, his son became fond of riding the horses. One day, his son fell off the horse and broke his thigh bone. As doctors were not nearly as well trained in 206 B.C., a broken thigh bone meant that his son would be a cripple for life. The old man thought, “Perhaps this will turn out to be a blessing.”

One year later, the Northern tribes launched a major invasion into China. All able-bodied young men were required to fight against the Northern invaders. Unfortunately, the casualties of this war were very high, with nine of ten men dying in battle. Only one out of ten survived to return back to his village.

Since the father was old and his boy was crippled, neither were required to go to war, and both survived. The son’s injury had turned out to be a blessing in disguise – sai weng shi ma.

The Fantasising TRIP: “If only I didn’t have chronic pain, my life would be fine.”

You’ve probably heard the phrase “the grass is always greener on the other side.” What it means is that things look better in our imagination than they are. This is because we tend to focus on the positives in an alternative situation and ignore the negatives and focus on the negatives in our present situation, ignoring the positives. 

There are deeply rooted biological reasons for our habitual fantasising. One neurochemical system – the dopaminergic system – has developed to keep us addicted to our anticipations of the future. This is so we stay productive and reproductive, not because our fantasies are accurate perceptions of the world (or that their fulfillment will make us happy).

Studies have found that dopamine is initially released in response to a reward (e.g. chocolate), but as time goes on and more rewards are received (e.g. more chocolate), more and more dopamine is released in response to anticipating the reward (thinking about eating chocolate) and less and less upon receiving the reward (eating chocolate).

“Natural selection doesn’t “want” us to be happy, after all; it just “wants” us to be productive, in its narrow sense of productive. And the way to make us productive is to make the anticipation of pleasure very strong but the pleasure itself not very long-lasting.” 

– Robert Wright, Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment 

I’m going to be a little radical and take the grass-is-always-greener trip a step further. Actually, three steps further. 

  1. The only problem with the present situation is that we think there’s a problem.
  2. We have NO idea how an alternative experience would be.
  3. However, the alternative experience would be, it would NOT be like the fantasy trip.

A thought says that my life would be fine without chronic pain. But can I really know that? Maybe without the pain, I would find myself on a ski trip where I’m paralysed. Maybe without the pain, I would have little desire to write articles like these. Maybe without the pain, I would fantasise about some other, more objectively trivial issue, like how “If only I had more (money, affection, social media likes) then my life would be ok.”

Again, I don’t know, and I don’t care to know. The important thing here is that doubt continues to penetrate these thoughts, so their credibility is challenged and the intensity of belief in them diminishes. 

There are plenty more trips that are beyond the scope of this article, but these three are a good introduction to the archetypal stories that the mind activates in response to painful experiences. 

The story itself isn’t important, the principle is. What is the principle? Again; mistrust your thoughts.

Relentlessly challenging all stories around pain has been a lifesaver. It allowed me to manage what has at times seemed to be an unbearable experience. It allowed a drastic reduction in pain medication, and on top of that, a huge relief from anxiety and fear – both of which are echoed over and over again in our painful stories.

When mistrusting your thoughts becomes a habit, then the mind invests less energy in thoughts and stories, and they lose their power. And that, my friends, is the revolutionary potential of mistrust.

The Power of Doubt: 5 Questions To Help Eliminate Painful Stories

What I’m about to talk about is universal. 

By that I mean, we all have one.

No, I’m not talking about a heart, or a lung, or a brain.

I’m talking about a story – a painful story. A story about a challenge that we have faced or are currently facing. Most of us have dozens of these stories. And you know what? These stories make it much harder to manage the unavoidable discomfort and pain that comes with a human life.

There are three challenges that we live with – but only two of them are necessary. 

These challenges are discomfort, pain, and suffering, and for the sake of this article, I’m going to define them in my own way.

Discomfort is any negative feedback to your nervous system that is mostly unconscious. It may be that we are sitting awkwardly so our body shifts position. Or that someone says something that we don’t like, so we snap at them. Or even just that we feel hunger, so we eat. Discomfort is necessary to keep us alive.   

Pain is a strong sense discomfort that recognised by our conscious mind. Consider times that we roll our ankle, bump our head or burn our hand on a stove. Some of us have chronic pain, such as arthritis, headaches or back pain. 

Suffering is an existential pain that arises when the sensation of pain also becomes a painful story about “me.” This is the fuel for most emotional pain that we experience.

Put simply, what we tell ourselves about the pain, i.e. how we ‘own’ it, determines both how long the pain sticks around and the intensity with which it arises. If there was no story about the pain, and only a sensation, there would be no suffering. This is true for both acute pain and chronic pain. 

When you look closely – through the lenses of direct experience or science – there is really little difference between the beliefs that cause emotional pain and the physical pain we feel. In fact, on a neurological level emotional and physical pain is actually processed in very similar parts of the brain: the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex. 

Fortunately, we can start to break down these beliefs by questioning our thoughts. Not just once or twice, but over and over again, until they start to unravel. 

Think about beliefs like a sweater that we walk around with and thoughts like the threads that make up the fabric. As we question the thoughts we are pulling at threads, until eventually the painful belief that we carry around with us just falls away. This is a longer process that requires more than what is contained in this article, but the following questions are useful starting points. 

#1: What is the story I am telling myself about this pain?

If pain is in your conscious awareness, then there is almost always a story you are telling yourself about the pain. Maybe it’s something like “this is the worst thing that has ever happened to me” or “I used to be happy before I had this problem.” Whatever the case, if you don’t first identify the story then it’s very hard to question it, and you’ll go on assuming that it’s the reality, rather than just a painful story.  

#2. How have I mistaken the story of this pain to be my identity?

Almost all stories have a degree of ownership to them. Anytime you notice the use of “I, me, mine” in a story about pain, then you’ve taken this story to be part of your identity. There are, however, different degrees of identification with our painful stories. For example, “My sore ankle is going to stop me from rollerblading next week” is more like a leaf on a branch, whereas “I’m just the guy in pain, everyone sees me like that” is more akin to the tree-trunk.  

#3. Do I truly know how I’m going to feel tomorrow?

The degree to which we perceive future certainty over our stories of pain is also the degree to which we become anxious about the pain. If you look close enough at your experience of pain, there may be very little consistency. Maybe you have a headache and the pain wants to tell you “You’ll have one in the morning as well.” But can you really know this? Have there been times where you expected to have pain, but didn’t? Or you expected to not have pain, and you did? Pain can cause fear and fear causes anxious predictions about what tomorrow brings.

#4. If humility could talk, what would it say about this pain?

What role does humility have in dealing with pain? Well, it’s simple. On a basic level, pain tells our brain that we are in danger. An organism in danger is one that is forced to put itself first. In terms of a painful story, this is usually translated through the mind as “this shouldn’t be happening to me.” “I don’t deserve this.” Or “This pain is unnatural and unfair.” Humility, however, is the opposite of this. It is capacity to see that that discomfort and pain is everywhere in nature. It’s normal and it says nothing about who or what you are, or what you “deserve.” Does a shrimp deserve to be swallowed by a whale? Does a fly deserve to be caught in a spider’s web? Does a tree deserve to be struck by lightning? Maybe your mind will argue that someone or something (like a medical system) has wronged you, and that without their errors or malintent, you wouldn’t have this pain. But then that wouldn’t be humility talking, would it?

#5. Could I be less interested in this painful story? 

Interest is the ingredient that keeps the painful stories going. Imagine your mind has a Netflix-like algorithm. The stories are only written if the viewer shows interest in them. If you stopped being entertained by episodes like “This isn’t fair.” “I can’t be happy while I’m in pain” or “When I get rid of this pain, everything will be ok,” then soon enough they’d stop appearing on your timeline, and eventually they would be discontinued altogether. The less interested you are in the stories about your pain, the less your brain will pay attention to it.

Question your painful stories and they will loosen their grip.  In time, suffering will become a painful sensation and painful sensations may even become unrecognised discomfort. 

How have you learned to separate pain from painful stories? Let us know in the comments!

The Optimism Habit: 6 Ways To Rewire Your Brain To Focus On The Positive

It’s an uphill battle we all go through.

Life presents us a challenge, big or small, and at some point, we decide to approach it with a positive mindset. But for whatever reason, something just keeps getting in the way. Maybe we have days where we manage to stay optimistic for 80% of the time, but the second we get tired or sick or hungry, all that cheerfulness is replaced by negativity. 

“Why do I have to deal with this?”

“This is ridiculous?”

“I don’t want to be doing this right now!”

The reality is, if our goal is to have a positive mindset, something IS standing in our way. Something huge; our brain. 

See, our brain developed in environments very different from the one we live in now. So evolution gave us what cognitive scientists call a negativity bias. This is the propensity of the mind to give more weight to negative information than positive information. It also means that more often than not, we perceive neutral information as negative.

Intuitively, we understand the negativity bias, because anyone with a human mind has lived with it at some point in time. Some people, however, manage to rewire their brain and make positivity their default attitude. Usually, this happens through sustained effort, but occasionally through luck or genetics. 

Before I jump into the different ways that you can begin to rewire your negativity bias, I want to first touch on some things that increase the pessimism habit. Some of these will be obvious, but it’s important to consider them in the context of the later strategies because they help you form a conceptual system for dealing with negativity. 

Stress. Any stress, whether physical or emotional, will supercharge the negativity bias. We see this when we’re sick or tired, and we become less tolerant and accepting of things in our experience.

Tension and pain. Where the body goes, the mind follows, and vice versa. Physical tension and pain will more often than not also cause mental tension and pain. 

Fear and trauma. Broadly speaking humans have two ways to deal with the world. One is open and free, and the other is closed and fearful. These will vary depending on your personal history, past traumas, culture and context, but it’s important to notice how fear and trauma – such as what we’ve seen with COVID-19 – can cause antisocial attitudes and behaviour. 

Egocentrism. These closed and open ways of dealing with the world are also linked to whether we are focused on protecting ourselves or focused on helping something bigger than ourselves. People who give their life to a greater cause can often seem more happy and positive. Part of this is because their mental content isn’t so acutely concerned with self-preservation.

The following list is by no means exhaustive. Anything that addresses stress, tension, pain, fear, trauma or egocentrism will tell our brains that we are safe and help to change our default focus from negative to positive.  

6 Ways To Rewire Your Brain To Focus On The Positive

#6. Negativity Fasting

What we consume on a mental level is as important as what we consume on a physical level. A psychologically nutritious diet should not include a heavy flow of negative information. Unfortunately with the way things are going into the third decade of this new millennium, day-by-day we are force-fed the mental equivalent of fast food. Limit this by turning off the news and reducing your social media use, reading optimistic books and only hanging around with people who are positive-minded.

Tips and Resources:

What is Negativity Fasting and can it make you happier? – Dave Asprey 

#5. Cognitive Reframing

This is pretty basic cognitive behavioural therapy. Take a negative thought such as “I can’t get up at 7 am every day” and change it to a positive (but realistic) one “I can get up at 7 am every day (though it may take a little extra effort). In my experience, this is quite a surface level tactic and doesn’t create deep change unless you take it very seriously. If, however, you consider cognitive reframing a practice, and you keep track of your negative thoughts with a journal, you can see some surprising changes.

Tips and Resources:

#4. Repetition and Habit Formation

This applies to pretty much any of the strategies on this list. Basically, the point I’m trying to make here is, chunk your tactic down into a manageable habit and repeat it over time until it becomes unconscious and natural. The best habit formation method I have come across is the work of Stanford Professor BJ Fogg. I actually took a training course in his habits coaching method a couple of years ago. Unless you’re specifically interested in mastering certain habits I wouldn’t spend much money – but I highly recommend his book.

Tips and Resources:

Book: Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything – BJ Fogg

#3. Cosmic Humour

“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.” – Alan Watts

Humour is the most effective (and underrated) tool for dealing with negativity in the entire human arsenal. It’s a gift that is so often squandered or ignored. Part of this is because psychology professors and spiritual teachers either take themselves too seriously or their students take them too seriously. If you can perceive your life from a bird-eye view and see the humour in each and every situation, it’s very hard to stay negative about it. Situations that are tragic or comedic have many of the same elements in them. Choose wisely. Alan Watts is good at this, but he might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Jedd Mckenna also does this a bit, but again, he’s not for everything.

Tips and Resources:

  • Books by Alan Watts 
  • Book: Spiritual Enlightenment: The Damnedest Thing – Jed Mckenna

#2. Radical Compassion Practices 

Different forms of compassion-based practices have been used in almost all spiritual traditions throughout history. They obviously work. I like the work of Tara Brach, who uses the term radical compassion. What she means by that, as far as I understand, is all-inclusive, non-discriminatory compassion. This means it’s often not easy because we’re at times practising compassion, gratitude and forgiveness, with things that we have strong negative feelings towards. But that’s why it works. 

Tips and Resources:

#1. Memory Reconditioning

Much of our negativity is stored in based memories and what some might call traumas. It’s probably better to call them micro-traumas to distinguish from more serious traumas associated with PTSD etc. By consciously bringing to mind certain negative memories and their associations, and changing the emotional tone that is connected to them, we can undo a lot of the baggage that we picked up throughout our life. When taken to its extreme, I think this is even more effective than the compassion practices, but they go hand-in-hand. I like the work of Byron Katie and Lester Levenson. They both have free and paid content. 

P.S. The Sedona Method is associated with Levenson, but they charge an arm and a leg. I wouldn’t recommend any of their more expensive programs. 

Tips and Resources:


These six strategies need to be applied with consistency and intensity if you are to really change your brain’s habits. Don’t be too hard on yourself if it doesn’t go the way you expect overnight. 

What experience have you had with the brain’s negativity bias? Let us know in the comments!

Peace of Mind is An Acquired Taste

In my late teens, I became interested in Buddhist Psychology.

I read about meditation, attention, the four noble truths, dharma, karma, citta, and various other exotic words.

Ironically, all these ideas became somewhat of an addiction.

On the one hand, I came to understand, at least superficially, that my mental experience was a reflection of my environment. Put simply: garbage in, garbage out.

Yet despite knowing this, and despite my mind being in a pretty uncomfortable place, I never took up a meditation practice. I just kept piling up the knowledge like trophies, and I was (literally) none the wiser.

At the same time, weekends would usually involve the consumption of a concoction of caffeine, sugar, alcohol, cannabis, fast food and the particular type of reality t.v. that made a hangover seem like an achievement.

My mind was so loud and chaotic I didn’t even notice.

Sattva and Samadhi might as well have been Vodka and Sambucca.

What You Don’t Know Will Hurt You

The cabin of an aeroplane is louder than you think. You actually cruise at around 85 decibels. After a couple of hours on board though, you tend to forget you’re sitting on the sonic equivalent of a lawnmower. It all becomes white noise. Most of the time, that was my mind. Loud, bustling, restless white noise.

Part of me wanted to meditate and truly experience what these books we’re talking about. But most of me wasn’t ready; I simply wasn’t accustomed to a quiet mind. Silence was a salad, but my mind had a sweet tooth.

Hmmm. Maybe a salad isn’t the best analogy here. Silence is more of an acquired taste. It’s something that requires exposure before we can start to enjoy it. Like a pungent cheese, a glass of dry wine or whisky with a kick, often we might need to grow into it.

Until we train ourselves to enjoy silence, we’re going to keep being attracted to those things in our life that bring us confusion, disquiet and drama. It’s a slippery slope, because when chaos becomes familiar, it is silence that seems too intense. Noise can distract us from the overwhelming sensations that a quiet mind will expose. At that point, we don’t even try to hold space in our life for peace and quiet — at least that’s where I was.

Even 30-seconds of silence waiting by myself for a friend would build up into an explosive scroll through social media.

I would’ve mourned for my mind’s chaos but the minute’s silence would’ve been unbearable.

Evolution and the Modular Mind

In his 2011 book, Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind, Evolutionary Psychologist Robert Kurzban explains how the brain evolved to have several specialised, and often competing, systems.

To put it simply, our brains have independent ‘modules’ for separate tasks. For example, we may have one system to promote short-term physical survival, another for morality or social status, and another for meaning-making. Given that meditation is now a billion-dollar industry, we likely have a module for peace of mind.

It’s all much more nuanced than that, but you get the point; sometimes one part of you will do things that another part of you doesn’t appear to want.

That’s why meditation is such a hard habit to stick with. It’s not exactly an easy sell. Happiness and calm aren’t really necessary for the four F’s of evolutionary survival: fightingfleeingfeeding and fornicating. If the different parts of your mind are having a board meeting, whoever is pitching meditation is probably doing a pretty lousy job.

Fortunately, with time, life experience and a little maturity, our palates can change. The sensations that you’re motivated to experience at 11 are different from what you look for at 21, as they are at 41 and I’m assuming at 81.

Eventually, I did take up a meditation practice, and quite a serious one at that.

Until I acquired the taste for silence — an ongoing process by the way — the benefits of silence just wasn’t interesting enough to convince me to stop chasing the dramas in my head. They didn’t make sense in a paradigm where I didn’t know what peace of mind looked, smelled, felt, tasted or sounded like.

The cost of peace of mind tends to be discomfort and sacrifice, and the uncomfortable reality is that in the realm of the mind, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

So what to do?

Well, that’s up to you. To be clear, this isn’t a call to cut out everything in your life that might contribute to mental noise. That’s unrealistic and relative to each individual.

All I’m trying to say is that at this point in my life, I simply don’t get bored with silence. As strange as it might sound, it can be more interesting than noise. The more time I’m exposed to silence, the better I feel. If someone would pay me to meditate, or even just stare at a wall, I’d take it. It’s probably just a sh*t wage.

Although nutritious, peace and quiet alone doesn’t necessarily constitute a balanced diet. Engaging with noise and chaos and all the stuff that makes your mind race is part of being human. To me, silence rules, but it need not be totalitarian. And besides, sometimes it’s no fun being the only vegan at the BBQ.

How to Stop Being Paranoid

How To Stop Being Paranoid

We’ve all had the feeling.

That itching feeling that something’s not quite right. That subtle sense of distrust, maybe of someone, or maybe something.

It might start with a simple question that pops up seemingly out of nowhere, but sooner or later it becomes an intense focus. Our mind starts to spiral and all of a sudden our mental energy is being drained by something that otherwise should have been a nonissue.

We have a term for this. It’s not nice. The word may even conjure up images of instability or even insanity.

We call it: paranoia.

If you’ve had this feeling, you probably want to know how to stop being paranoid.

But first;

What is Paranoia?

There are generally two ways in which we use the word paranoia.  

The first is what a large majority of us will experience at some point. It is to be unreasonably or obsessively anxious, suspicious, or mistrustful. In this case, paranoia is an irrational thought-process driven by fear and anxiety.

It may be the suspicion that our lover is unfaithful or even just a conviction in the idea that we have bad luck – i.e. there is some unknown force that is preventing us from getting what we want.

The mildest version of this is called the attribution bias. This is a cognitive heuristic whereby we make errors when trying to attribute the causes of the behaviour of both ourselves and others.

The second is what we might call clinical paranoia. From this point of view, there are three main types of paranoia, all of which are focused around a mistrust of others. These habits stop the individual from being able to function socially. They are; paranoid personality disorder, a general but strong mistrust of the world, delusional disorder, which is dominated by one strong delusion usually around someone plotting to harm them, and paranoid schizophrenia, which may include strange delusions that go as far as hallucinations.

These disorders are not what I’ll be discussing here in this article, though if you believe you may have one or more of these, it’s highly advised you see a psychiatrist.

For a more detailed look at what causes paranoia, I highly recommend you watch this video by Clinical Psychologist Richard Bentall.

The mind is a tricky thing, and it can be tough to determine whether many of our concerns are legitimate or just, well, paranoia.

If you feel you are experiencing any of these symptoms, or you are often told by others that you exhibit these kinds of behaviour, it’s likely that your mind is behaving in a way that we could consider paranoid.

  • You find it difficult to trust other people
  • You don’t cope well with any kind of criticism
  • You’re often easily offended
  • You’re often suspicious of others e.g. you think people are lying or cheating
  • You are very interested in and convinced by ‘conspiracy theories’
  • You’re always on the defensive
  • You can’t stop ruminating on what has been said to you

Paranoia is a direct result of anxiety, and given we live a lifestyle that is increasingly conducive to anxiety, it’s unsurprising that more and more of us are becoming paranoid as well.

In the modern age, there are a number of environmental factors that lead to increased feelings of anxiousness, many of which are exacerbated by technology. Cultural phenomena that come as a result of increased news coverage and social media usage can largely be to blame.

The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), Status Anxiety, sensationalisation of news stories and Paralysis-by-analysis are all relatively novel anxieties that we have to face that drive paranoid tendencies.

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO): FOMO is the tendency to feel anxious at the thought that other people are having rewarding experiences that you are missing out on. This is obviously fuelled by social media and the Instagram culture.

Status Anxiety: This term was coined by Alain De Botton and refers to the tendency for people in modern capitalist societies to constantly compare themselves to those who are economically above them. It was less prevalent in history where status was fixed and less flexible.

Paralysis-by-analysis: When we become stuck in a thought loop whereby we are unable to make decisions because we have too many options, this is paralysis-by-analysis. Again, this relates to status anxiety, technology and modern cultural expectations.

To give another example of paranoia in the modern world, the Flat Earth Theory, has gained a lot of traction in the last five years. This is despite the fact that in that same time period far more people than ever have been able to fly and literally see that the earth is round.

Interest in the earth being flat is not particularly geared towards the science, it is generated by a general mistrust of institutions and authority, of which education and academics fall under.

Some researchers have claimed that paranoia is amplified by feelings of victimization and powerlessness and that this is reinforced by lower socioeconomic status. Another study in 2014 found that women who were placed in a virtual reality simulator and made to perceive themselves as physically smaller in comparison to their environment felt more paranoia.

These links make some sense under the lens of evolutionary theory, as being smaller or less powerful tends to mean you can be under more threat and should have your guard up.

There a number of causes of paranoia, and it’s probable that a number of genetic and environmental factors contribute to someone being paranoid.

Technology is an obvious culprit for a couple of reasons. Firstly, technology promotes distortions within our relationships that could be correlated to a general increase in social anxiety. Our communications between one another are limited and selective, and we have an unrealistic perspective of how other people live. A general information overload also heightens anxieties as the brain is working overtime in an attempt to filter information.

Secondly, our access to news is conducive to paranoia, because it highlights the most extreme aspects of our culture, particularly the negative. In order to keep the news entertaining, current events are boiled down to a Hollywood-esque storyline. These are underpinned by black and white thinking, and encourage a worldview that is heavily conspiratorial.

Psychoanalysis and Paranoia: Trust, Betray and the Underworld

There are many perspectives and frameworks we can use to view anxiety and overthinking in psychology. One of these is psychoanalysis. For an entertaining and unique take on distrust and paranoia, I highly recommend you watch the video below by Jordan Peterson.

How To Stop Paranoid Thoughts

Here I’ve covered the six most effective ways to eliminate your paranoia. A holistic approach will be the most useful, and tracking your feelings of paranoia either with a journal or a therapist will help you see the progress you’re making.

It’s useful before you start to do any of these, to accept that you’re having feelings of paranoia and remind yourself in what ways this may be negatively impacting your life, and in what ways overcoming these feelings would benefit you.

1.Reduce Your Anxiety

As paranoia is largely a result of anxiety, it makes sense to directly manage this habit first. There are dozens of ways to reduce anxiety. Here are some of the most common ways to do so in your daily life:

2. Improve your tolerance for uncomfortable feelings

People generally have a low tolerance for uncomfortable feelings and anxious thoughts. We quickly become averse to them when they arise, and tend to push them away and not deal with them. Improving our tolerance for these sensations gives you the time to stay with them enough to break them down and deconstruct them.

So for example, if you have an anxious thought such as “what did Sarah really mean when she said that?” you’ll be more able to stick with the thought and recognize it as anxiety.

When we are unable to look at a thought, another anxious thought will usually occur. In the case of Sarah, this could be “maybe she doesn’t really like me”, which may cause another such as “she’s out to get me”, until we’ve spiraled towards paranoia.

Humour is the most effective technique for confronting uncomfortable feelings. It has the function of relieving psychological or physiological tension, and in doing so it can allow perspective shifts that cause old beliefs to crumble. If you can identify your suspicions and make fun of them, they will start to lose their potency over time.

3. Practice Rational Thought with Mental Models

Having a psychological process that you use as a tool can be incredibly useful for preventing the aggravation of paranoid thoughts.

Two of the most effective methods of inquiry I’ve found for any type of thought that I want to deconstruct and let go of are Byron Katies ‘The Word’ and The Sedona Method.

They work by simply taking a thought, focusing on the feelings associated with that thought, and asking a series of questions until the role that it plays within your experience changes.

Let’s take the example of the thought “John is always out to prove me wrong!”

Byron Katies ‘The Work’

  1. Is it true? Is it true that John is ALWAYS out to get you? Be quiet and wait for a response in how your body feels, as opposed to what your mind says.
  2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? Can you ultimately know with 100% certainty that John is out to prove you wrong? Can you always know John’s intentions, without being inside his head?
  3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought? What happens when you believe that John is always out to prove you wrong? Do you experience anger and frustration? Do you ruminate on the idea of John trying to get you?
  4. Who would you be without the thought? Close your eyes and visualization how you would be without the idea that John is trying to prove you wrong? Would you be more calm, open, relaxed?

The Sedona Method

  1. Could you let this thought go? You might not feel like you can, which is ok. The emphasis here is on the process of inquiry, not on the answers that it generates.
  2. Would you let this thought go? Is this thought still useful to you? Would you be better off without it? This is extra effective after having asked the question ‘who would you be without the thought from Byron Katie’s inquiry.
  3. When could you let this thought go? It doesn’t really matter how or if you answer this question, simply doing so allow your mind to conceptualize you letting go of the thought in the moment. After this has become a possibility, the thought will inherently have less of a grip over you, because the seed of doubt in its authority has been planted.

In my experience, you need to do this self-inquiry slowly and with strong intent. Though it requires patient and practice, is the most effective way for changing how you relate to certain thoughts.

You can experiment with doing the inquiry solely in your head, or writing down the answers.

4. Confront Your Suspicions with a Journal

If you’re having suspicious thoughts about an individual or a group of people, it’s always effective to question those suspicions. Try and write down how you feel, how long you’ve felt that way, and why you may feel that way. It’s also incredibly effective to try and come up with a number of alternative explanations and argue for why they may be right. This will stop you from jumping to conclusions and quickly investing in thoughts that are being governed by emotional responses rather than reason.

Remember that the brain has a number of cognitive biases, many of which are made worse by anxiety, stress, and fear. You may want to become familiar with a few of these and try and see where you are being influenced by them.

Keeping a diary can help combat anxiety and in turn, help you reduce your paranoia. There are a number of ways you can journal, you may want to start with the self-inquiry method above. Another way to do so is to write down how you feel, how strong the feeling is, and why you may feel that way.

One 2010 study of medical students, who tend to have more anxiety than the general population, found that journaling was an effective intervention technique to reduce stress and anxiety.

5. Improve your mood and self-esteem

As I touched on briefly earlier, feelings of being small or powerlessness are associated with paranoia. This seems to extend to other negative self-evaluations, as feelings of depression and low self-esteem also appear to be correlated with paranoia.

All of the advice recommended for anxiety are also applicable here, but if you want to improve your mood and self-esteem, it’s vital to make sure you are eating healthy, spending time in nature, and exercising regularly.

Remember that if you’re feeling depressed, it’s valuable and healthy that you tell someone you love, as opposed to keeping it to yourself.

For a practical and detailed look into how to improve your self-esteem, check out Nathaniel Branden’s book The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem.

If you’d like to know how to change your thinking and improve your mood, David Burn’s book Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, is one of the pinnacle works in this field.

6. Spend more time with other people

When you spend too much time by yourself, it gives your brain more time and space to overthink, which can naturally increase feelings of paranoia.

In a sample of people who didn’t have clinical paranoia, it was found that social exclusion was highly correlated with state paranoia.This means that if you want to make your brain feel paranoid for no reason, spending less and less time with others is a perfect way to do so.

When you discuss your suspicions with other people, it much easier to challenge them and see why they may be false. Likewise, when you’re with a group of people, the way in which your psychological energy is directed is determined by the feedback that other people are giving you. If you’re out at dinner and everyone’s talking about a TV series that they’ve seen, it’s more difficult to be thinking about an unrelated conspiracy then if you were sitting at home and letting your paranoia build up.

Stop Paranoia in Relationships

Paranoia and anxiety can be incredibly frustrating, but they don’t need to have an unnecessary influence over your emotions and social relationships.  Unfortunately, paranoia tends to show up most frequently in romantic relationships in the form of jealousy, envy and distrust. 

Here are some tips to stop being paranoid in your relationships.

  • Write down all the ways your current partner is different from your previous relationships.
  • Challenge black-and-white thinking and cognitive distortions.
  • Recognise that the image we have in our head is never truly how the person acts – our memory isn’t reliable.
  • Try to be open with your partner about your feelings, how you want to work on them, and let them see that you know it’s not their fault.
  • Write down and challenge old ideas that keep coming up in your life.

Stop Paranoia at Work

Because work is another social domain where we might feel our identity is threatened, it can also cause a degree of anxiety and paranoia. Paranoid thoughts in the workplace can have a negative impact on your career, not to mentioned your fulfilment at work.

Here are some tips to stop being paranoid at work.

  • Always assume that your co-workers are thinking about you 50% less than your first assumption.
  • Try to create a collaborative environment instead of a competitive one.
  • Help other people out.
  • Focus more on your work and your performance and less on how other people might be evaluating you.

Stop Paranoia at Night

A lot of people who tend towards anxious thoughts will suffer from paranoia at night time. This is because at night they are not distracted by all the duties of the day and their mind is probably tired, so the natural thing to do is to overthink.

Here are some tips to stop being paranoid at night time.

  • Have a calming bedtime routine and stick to it.
  • Meditate before bed, or listen to calming stories such as those on the Calm App.
  • Write a to-do list for the next day.
  • Keep your mind distracted by reading or watching something interesting.
  • Do some moderate-intense exercise after work.
  • Try to not read the news or go on social media for two hours before bed.

In the fight against the monkey mind, it can often feel like you’re swimming upstream, but as you develop the skills to deal with your thoughts, that struggle will become easier and easier.

What experience have you had with reducing your paranoia? Let me know in the comments!

43 Life-Changing Quotes For When You Are Feeling Defeated

Feeling Defeated Quotes

“Life is like a boxing match, defeat is declared not when you fall, but when you refuse to stand again.” – Kristen Ashley

Everybody has had the experience of feeling defeated and discouraged. There is a universal resonance with the story of the hero who was down and out, ready to quit and give up. It’s natural, we’re all human beings. 

The word defeat comes from the Old French desfait, meaning to undo, to reduce to near nothing. When we feel like we’ve lost something, our energy is drained, and it is this lack of eagerness that we feel when we say we are defeated. But just because we feel defeated, it doesn’t mean that we are. Our energy naturally ebbs and flows, and while your brain might tell you that you want to quit one day, it’s likely to turn around after a good night sleep and say something completely different. 

Side note: If you are feeling defeated and depressed, it may be necessary to get some help. Here’s a list of crisis helplines by country if you’re having suicidal thoughts.

What does it mean to feel defeated?

Feeling defeated means that first and foremost you have something you were up against and you lost. This may be a goal, a relationship, a health problem, school, work, or any other challenge. 

To be defeated means that you have a sense that you’re down and out. The challenge in front may even appear to be insurmountable. Remember, the feeling is not the fact. Just because you experience an emotion it doesn’t make it a reality. For example, when the body is sick we often find ourselves impatient, negative and close-minded. The same is happening when you are exhausted, your mind starts to create images of a version of you that has lost.

For that reason, it’s important to stay motivated. To read positive quotes and be inspired by people who have overcome the same challenges that you’re going through.

The following quotes and sayings, should you be willing to look deeply into their meaning, will help you to see things from a new perspective, and hopefully inspire you to push on and keep going.

Quotes about feeling defeated in life

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald 

“The world isn’t sunshine and rainbows. It’ll beat you down if you let it, and nothing hits harder than life.” – Rocky Balboa

“I accept this defeat with humility and courage, and I welcome the next challenge with open arms.” – Anonymous

“Only a man who knows what it is like to be defeated can reach down to the bottom of his soul and come up with the extra ounce of power it takes to win when the match is even.” – Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali was widely considered one of the greatest boxers of all time, but even he suffered several loses. The difference is, he never chose to take any individual defeat as final. Ali always waited till he regained his strength and came back to face his challenges even after his loss to Leon Spinks, even after being stripped of his boxing license for opposing the Vietnam War.

“Perhaps someday I’ll crawl back home, beaten, defeated. But not as long as I can make stories out of my heartbreak, beauty out of sorrow.” – Sylvia Plath

“We are never defeated unless we give up on God.” – Ronald Reagan

“Setbacks in life are opportunities to perform at a new level.” – Willian Cranch Bond

“The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.” – Rainer Mike Rilke

“Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

“In the end, everything will be okay. If it’s not okay, it’s not yet the end.” – Fernando Sabino

How do I get over a defeat?

Getting over a defeat requires patience, time and focus. Here are five tips to help you overcome a setback.

Define the enemy. When we say that we feel defeated we are presuming there is something that has defeated us. If we don’t even know what that thing is, it means that we don’t have clarity over our emotions. Sit down and really meditate on why you feel this way. Did you get rejected at a job interview? Are you trying to work on a project but you can’t muster the energy? What it is that has you feeling beaten?

Define failure and success. If you have now decided that you feel defeated, then you need to define what success and failure looks like. Take for example the case feeling like a loser at work. What does success at work mean to you? What does failure mean?  How can you try and win when you don’t even know what it is that you are losing?

Reframe Your Situation. When we feel like giving up, like we’ve lost and no longer have the energy to continue, it’s important to take a step back and get some new perspective. Instead of saying, I’ve lost. Say, I feel defeat today, but tomorrow is another opportunity to get back on the horse. 

Paint a picture of what success looks like. You cannot move forward without knowing which way to go. Once you’ve defined what success looks like, paint a clear image of the scenario in your mind. Some people call this positive visualisation. Your mind is attracted to what it knows, play a successful scenario in your head over and over, like a musician rehearsing a performance, and you’ll start to unconsciously gravitate towards optimism. 

Inspirational quotes about feeling defeated

“If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life.” – Marcus Garvey

“Sometimes adversity is what you need to face in order to become successful.” – Zig Ziglar

“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” – Chinese Proverb

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising every time we fail.” – Nelson Mandela

“True defeat only happens if you stop. If you never stop, you’re never truly defeated.” – Anonymous

“He knows not his own strength who hath not met adversity.” – William Samuel Johnson

“Defeat your fears and you can never be defeated.” – Jeffrey Fry

“Being defeated is often a temporary condition. Giving up is what makes it permanent.” – Marilyn vos Savant

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man, true nobility is being superior to your former self.” – Ernest Hemingway

“See any time you feel pained or defeated, it is only because you insist on clinging to what doesn’t work. Dare to let go and you won’t lose a thing except for a punishing idea.” – Guy Finley

“The defeat in your head is not the same as the defeat in your heart. If your head tells you to stop, try listening to your heart.” – Anonymous

“The gospel is for the defeated, not the dominant.” – Tullian Tchividjian

“We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.” – Maya Angelou

How do I stop myself from discouraging myself?

When a strong emotion catches hold of us it can create habit patterns in our mind. For example, negative emotions can create the habit of feeling like you’re not good enough. Unfortunately, there’s only one way to overcome the habit of discouraging yourself; do the opposite. You need to positively encourage yourself, over and over again.  

Quotes for when you feel like giving up and quitting

“Sometimes life is going to hit you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith.” – Steve Jobs

“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.” – Og Mandino

“Tough times never last. Tough people do.” – Robert Schuller

“Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.” – Lance Armstrong

“When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better we can bear a hardship today.” – Thich Nhat Hahn

“When you feel too positive to be doubtful, too optimistic to be fearful, and too determined to be defeated, you are undeniably on the way to success.” – Dr Prem Jagyasi

“But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.” Ernest Hemingway

“Defeat doesn’t finish a man, quit does. A man is not finished when he’s defeated. He’s finished when he quits.” – Richard M. Nixon

“You are not a victim. No matter what you have been through, you’re still here. You may have been challenged, hurt, betrayed, beaten, and discouraged, but nothing has defeated you. You are still here! You have been delayed but not denied. You are not a victim, you are a victor. You have a history of victory.” – Steve Maraboli

When You Feel Like Giving Up

Bible quotes about feeling defeated

The themes of battle, victory and defeat run consistently throughout the bible. Whether you are Christian, Jewish, agnostic, or atheist, you may still be able to find comfort in these words which have served so many people in history. 

“We are afflicted in every way, but not crush; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” – Corinthians 4:8

“For we live by faith, not by sight.” – Corinthians 5:7

“For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory.” – Thessalonians 2:11-12

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.” – Lamentations 3:22

“Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.” – Corinthians 16:13

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” – Psalm 34:19

“What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” – Romans 8:31

“Do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.” – Hebrews 10:35-56

“Taste and see that the Lord is god; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” – Psalm 34:8

When You Feel Like Quitting

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25 Carlos Castaneda Quotes To Awaken Your Inner Shaman

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25 Carlos Castaneda Quotes To Awaken Your Inner Shaman

Spirituality is universal. It couldn’t be any other way. 

What do I mean by this?

In reality, independent of cognitive labels, there is no split between the physical, psychological or spiritual worlds. When you look in your direct experience, you can never find a line distinguishing them. We only separate these domains for the sake of communication and scientific investigation. 

Why, however, is this important to point out? Well, because religions and belief systems are simply pointers from apparent mental and physical worlds to the spirit world. 

To say that one tradition has the answer is an oxymoron, the answer lies outside of tradition. Maybe it’s more accurate to say that each tradition has its own unique way of explaining things, and different ideas will connect with different people. 

My mother was raised a catholic and my father Jewish. I was raised an atheist – but later turned to Buddhism, before becoming interested in Yoga and Advaita Vedanta in search of something more. Ultimately, however, no teaching was more believable than actual experience. 

Along the way I’ve explored Christian mysticism, Sufism, and even neo-shamanism. One of the most well known neo-shamanistic writers was a Peruvian-American who draws inspiration from the ancient Toltec culture of Hidalgo, Mexico. I have spent years in both Mexico and Peru respectively, and I can tell you that their cultures – both modern and traditional, vary greatly. Make no mistake, he was not born into the tradition he introduced to the world.

Born on Christmas day, 1925, in Cajamarca Peru, Carlos Castaneda went on to study a PhD in anthropology at the University of California Los Angeles. In the early 1960s, his work as an anthropologist took him to Arizona, where he met Don Juan Matus, a shaman who was shrouded in mystery and promise. After a series of initiation ritual of sorts, whereby Castaneda was supposedly introduced to a series of hallucinogens, he returned to Los Angeles and wrote his first book The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge. 

Published in 1968, the book was well-received by the Californian counterculture of the time, and spurred two further works; A Separate Reality: Further Conversations with Don Juan (1971) and Journey to Ixtlan: The Lessons of Don Juan (1972). Castaneda was reclusive, despite the fact he developed a degree of fame and unintentionally became a figurehead for the new age movement. 

His books have been translated into seventeen languages, and are still well known, now 50 years later. Admittedly though, they have not been without controversy. The three books have been criticised for appropriating the shamanistic cultures from which he drew his ideas. It’s a valid criticism, it should be made clear that his books are one academics modern interpretation of Toltec spirituality. He doesn’t speak for their culture. Also, though Castenada had a PhD in anthropology and his first books were initially taken to be works of non-fiction, they are now largely regarded as works of fiction. 

However, none of this takes away from the value of the ideas presented in his work. 

As you will see below, from wherever you are reading this article, his words often still resonate over half a century after they were written. Ideas will always be just that, ideas. If, however, they can point you towards something important, then they are valid. 

Whenever wisdom is repackaged form the modern age it becomes stripped of some of the authentic culture presented in their original form, and even to some sense diluted. This is clearly what has happened with mindfulness when Jon Kabat-Zinn brought it over from Buddhism to Western Medicine. 

So without further ado, here are;

25 Carlos Castaneda Quotes To Awaken Your Inner Shaman

Death & Spirit

“In a world where death is the hunter, my friend, there is no time for regrets or doubts. There is only time for decisions.”

“Death is the only wise advisor that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you’re about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you’re wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, ‘I haven’t touched you yet.”

“We hardly ever realize that we can cut anything out of our lives, anytime, in the blink of an eye.”

“Malicious acts are performed by people for personal gain … Sorcerers, though, have an ulterior purpose for their acts, which has nothing to do with personal gain. The fact that they enjoy their acts does not count as gain. Rather, it is a condition of their character. The average man acts only if there is a chance for profit. Warriors say they act not for profit but for the spirit.”

Many shamanic traditions have a different attitude towards death and spirit than modern culture. Though specific beliefs vary between cultures, there is commonly a ritualistic partaking in some form of acted death – such as psychedelics or long periods dancing or in a fasted state. Like many esoteric traditions, spirit is something that is more fundamental than the body, and therefore the death of the body is not feared, as it is simply a natural process of the essence returning to the earth. Castaneda often talked of ‘The Warrior’ and contrasted this to ‘The Normal Man’ – a warrior is someone who has seen the truth of spirit, and as a result, does not fear death.

Dreaming & Awakening

“Once it has learned to dream the double, the self arrives at this weird crossroad and a moment comes when one realizes that it is the double who dreams the self.”

“Forget the self and you will fear nothing, in whatever level or awareness you find yourself to be.”

“Through dreaming we can perceive other worlds, which we can certainly describe, but we can’t describe what makes us perceive them.”

“The average man is hooked to his fellow men, while the warrior is hooked only to infinity.”

“What makes us unhappy is to want. Yet if we would learn to cut our wants to nothing, the smallest thing we’d get would be a true gift.”

“Beware of those who weep with realization, for they have realized nothing.”

“There is no beginning, the beginning is only in your thought.”

“Don Juan had always said to me that our great enemy is the fact that we never believe what is happening to us.”

Dreaming and Awakening are often to domains and metaphors that are used to examine the nature of experience and question our assumptions about reality. In 1993 Castaneda wrote a book called The Art of Dreaming, which explained the process of lucid dreaming and its application in spiritual endeavours. Lucid dreaming has been used for thousands of years as a spiritual practice, most notably in Tibetan Dream Yoga. Don Juan Matus’ approach to dreaming, as described by Castaneda, takes the dreamer through 7 gates which are obstacles to pure awareness. 

Intention & Emotion

“To worry is to become accessible, unwittingly accessible. And once you worry you cling to anything out of desperation; and once you cling you are bound to get exhausted or to exhaust whoever or whatever you are clinging to.”

“A warrior takes his lot, whatever it may be, and accepts it in ultimate humbleness. He accepts in humbleness what he is, not as a grounds for regret but as a living challenge.”

“The trick is in what one emphasises. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.”

“A man goes to knowledge as he goes to war, wide awake, with fear, with respect, and with absolute assurance.”

“Once you decide something put all your petty fears away. Your decision should vanquish them.”

“Think about it: what weakens us is feeling offended by the deeds and misdeeds of our fellow men. Our self-importance requires that we spend most of our lives offended by someone.”

“I have no routines or personal history. One day I found out that they were no longer necessary for me and, like drinking, I dropped them. One must have the desire to drop them and then one must proceed harmoniously to chop them off, little by little.”

“…only if they remain totally detached can they have the energy to be free. Theirs is a particular type of detachment which is born not out of fear or indolence, but out of conviction.”

Like many psychological systems throughout human history, Castenada emphasised intention and its impact on our emotions. This intention meant the literal emotional intention, such as trying to think positive thoughts, but it was also a broader way of engaging with life. Notably, he had a very controlled and strict diet and believed that what you eat was a direct reflection of mental content. “Si comes mal, te sientes mal y ves todo mal” he told one reporter – meaning “If you eat bad, you’ll feel bad and see everything negatively.”


“A path is only a path, and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you . . . Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself alone, one question . . . Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t it is of no use.”

“A man of knowledge lives by acting, not by thinking about acting.”

“The basic difference between an ordinary man and a warrior is that a warrior takes everything as a challenge while an ordinary man takes everything as a blessing or a curse.”

“The art of a warrior is to balance the terror of being a man with the wonder of being a man.”

“You say you need help. Help for what? You have everything needed for the extravagant journey that is your life.”

Life, from Castaneda’s perspective, was something that was both eerily short and vastly expansive. This is because the shaman lives from a place of connectedness with the absolute, and radical honesty with his humanity. The human experience of life is brief and is to be lived as such. Fear is put aside and challenges are confronted head-on, the senses are to be enjoyed but not to the point of hedonism. Level Headedness is what guides the warrior.

50 Life-Changing Dalai Lama Quotes on Life, Love, Health, Happiness, Kindness and More!

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, lived through remarkable times that thrust him onto the world stage. Political events in his home country and a growing global demand for its wisdom expanded his role as the leader of a nation and a religious community into that of an international spiritual authority and diplomat. The winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on nonviolent resolution with China, he became even perhaps more widely known for his lectures on spiritual topics ranging from traditional Buddhist teachings to the intersection of religion and science.

Born in 1935, the Dalai Lama was recognised as such in 1937 by monks who identified him as the reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama, who had died in 1933. Born into a humble farming family in which he was one of sixteen children, he was swept into a very different world when he began his rigorous monastic education. At the Potala Palace, he studied monastic discipline and meditation, Buddhist metaphysical and ethical teachings, and other subjects including fine arts, logic, and medicine. His childhood and education are explored in the 1997 Martin Scorsese movie Kundun, which also depicts the Chinese invasion of Tibet that sent him and many other Tibetan Buddhist monks into exile in 1959.

The Dalai Lama belongs to the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism, which teaches Vajrayana Buddhism, a branch of the Mahayana Buddhist school. In Mahayana Buddhism, the goal of individual enlightenment is set aside for the goal of liberating all other beings from the cycle of suffering or samsara. The essence of Vajrayana, or Tantric Buddhism, is the concept of rapid spiritual transformation through direct engagement with the substance of everyday life. In Vajrayana, negative states of mind such as hatred and desire are embraced and worked with directly as the path to enlightenment. One of the symbols of Vajrayana is the peacock, whose beautiful plumage was said to result from the transmutation of poison.

Traditional Tibetan teachings go into great depth regarding the nature of mind. The unique path of the 14th Dalai Lama has led him to publish dozens of books ranging from dense texts on complex tantric teachings like the Kalachakra (Wheel of Time) to books for a popular audience on happiness and compassion.

So without further ado, here are 50 life-changing Dalai Lama quotes on life, love, health, happiness, kindness and more!

On Happiness

“I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness.”

– The Art of Happiness

“Happiness is determined more by one’s state of mind than by external events.”

– The Art of Happiness

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

– The Art of Happiness

“The basic sources of happiness are a good heart, compassion, and love. If we have these, even if we’re surrounded by hostility, we’ll feel little disturbance.”

– The Basic Sources of Happiness

“There’s another Tibetan saying that it is actually the painful experiences that shine the light on the nature of happiness. They do this by bringing joyful experiences into sharp relief.”

– The Book of Joy

“If something is lacking in your perspective—if something is missing in your heart—then despite the most luxurious surroundings, you cannot be happy. However, if you have peace of mind, you can find happiness even under the most difficult circumstances.”

– How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life

“I say, if you are selfish, you should be wisely selfish. Ordinary selfishness focuses only on your own needs, but if you are wisely selfish, you will treat others just as well as you treat those close to you. Ultimately, this strategy will produce more satisfaction, more happiness. So, even from a selfish viewpoint, you get better results by respecting others, serving others, and reducing self-centeredness.”

-How to Practice

“Whether our action is wholesome or unwholesome depends on whether that action or deed arises from a disciplined or undisciplined state of mind. It is felt that a disciplined mind leads to happiness and an undisciplined mind leads to suffering, and in fact it is said that bringing about discipline within one’s mind is the essence of the Buddha’s teaching.”

-The Art of Happiness

The Dalai Lama’s teachings focus on the central role of happiness in personal and global transformation. At first, this may seem counterintuitive, out of place for a lofty spiritual thinker who has spent his life studying complex teachings on the nature of mind. Yet, to the Dalai Lama, happiness is the foundation upon which all other positive change rests. Compassion and altruism much more naturally flow from people who are happy than from people who are unhappy. Similarly, cultivating compassion and love is the most direct and powerful way to achieve and maintain happiness. These states of mind inspire actions that benefit others, and these states, as well as the fruits of the actions driven by them, inspire feelings of well-being.

As the Dalai Lama teaches, compassion and love can be generated through various forms of mental training and meditative discipline. These traits are a much more stable foundation for happiness than fleeting external circumstances. In the Buddhist perspective, this positive cycle in which benefits to self and benefits to others feed upon one another reflects the wisdom that the mind, rather than the objects it perceives, is the primary basis of experience.

On Love

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”

– Dzogchen: The Heart Essence of the Great Perfection

“Ultimately, the reason why love and compassion bring the greatest happiness is simply that our nature cherishes them above all else. The need for love lies at the very foundation of human existence. It results from the profound interdependence we all share with one another.”

– Official Website

“Though it is possible for love and compassion to be influenced by afflictive emotions, true love and compassion are unbiased and devoid of exaggeration, because they are founded on valid cognition of your relationship to others.”

– How to See Yourself As You Really Are

“Real compassion is based on reason. Ordinary compassion or love is limited by desire or attachment.”

– How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life

“One kind of compassion is tinged with attachment—the feeling of controlling someone, or loving someone so that person will love you back. This ordinary type of love or compassion is quite partial and biased. And a relationship based on that alone is unstable… If there is a slight change in the situation, a disagreement perhaps, or if your friend does something to make you angry, then all of a sudden your mental projection changes; the concept of ‘my friend’ is no longer there. Then you’ll find the emotional attachment evaporating, and instead of that feeling of love and concern, you may have a feeling of hatred. So that kind of love, based on attachment, can be closely linked with hatred.”

– The Art of Happiness

“We humans have existed in our present form for about a hundred thousand years. I believe that if during this time the human mind had been primarily controlled by anger and hatred, our overall population would have decreased. But today, despite all our wars, we find that the human population is greater than ever. This clearly indicates to me that while anger and aggression are surely present, love and compassion predominate in the world. This is why what we call ‘news’ is composed of mostly unpleasant or tragic events; compassionate activities are so much a part of daily life that they are taken for granted and therefore are largely ignored.”

– The Compassionate Life

The Dalai Lama sees love as the driving force of the human realm: though hate and violence exist, they are not our true nature. Like all Buddhists, the Dalai Lama believes human nature and human life are fundamentally good, and that the nature of the mind is fundamentally peaceful. As he notes, while we tend to focus on and react to stories that reinforce our self-image as a violent and destructive species, the greater human story is one of cooperation and of helping one another.

It is our love for one another that is the source of our greatest inspiration to learn, create, succeed, and overcome the challenges we face. It is not that the “three poisons” of greed, hatred, and ignorance are not at play in the world, but that they are not the fundamental nature of this world. Rather, they arise from a cycle of misperception that can be broken and disappear completely in the light of the awakened mind.

The Dalai Lama takes care to distinguish the wholesome, self-sustaining love of the disciplined mind from the confused and unstable feelings that arise from attachment. Wise love does not seek to control another person and is not dependent upon that person’s reactions or feelings. Instead, it is rooted in a desire for the other to be happy. This kind of love never transforms into hate and is a balm for the spirit in the face of loss and hardship. It is the flame that lights the way when all else has become dark, bringing us back to others and to our own inner wisdom.

On Kindness

“When you are concerned about others, your own welfare is fulfilled automatically.”

– How to Practice

“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

– The Dalai Lama: A Policy of Kindness

“A person’s general goodness is in direct correlation to the force, or quality, of the kind thoughts he or she generates.”

– Stages of Meditation

“Kindness is essential to mental peace. The central method for achieving a happier life is to train your mind in a daily practice that weakens negative attitudes and strengthens positive ones.”

– How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life

“My earnest request is that you practice love and kindness whether you believe in a religion or not. Through this practice you come to realize the value of compassion and kindness for your own peace of mind.”

– How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life

“Compassion can be roughly defined in terms of a state of mind that is nonviolent, nonharming, and nonaggressive. It is a mental attitude based on the wish for others to be free of their suffering and is associated with a sense of commitment, responsibility, and respect towards the other.”

– The Art of Happiness

“I think that in many cases people tend to expect the other person to respond to them in a positive way first, rather than taking the initiative themselves to create that possibility. This leads to problems and can act as a barrier that serves to promote a feeling of isolation from others.”

– The Art of Happiness

One of the Dalai Lama’s most well-known quotes is that his religion is kindness. In the simple act of helping others is folded an entire science of mind. Peace, love, compassion, and kindness are profoundly interrelated; a loving and peaceful mind naturally generates acts of kindness and compassion, which in turn reinforce positive states of being. As with love, the Dalai Lama teaches that true kindness is not driven by the desire to control another person or to elicit a certain response from them. Rather, it is driven by a genuine wish for another to be happy and free from suffering. This wish is grounded in wisdom and the understanding that others cannot be made happy, but can be inspired and aided in their path to happiness by acts of kindness. Such acts encompass everything from sharing material resources to speaking encouraging words.

In the Buddhist tradition, one of the kindest things a person can do is free others from fear. The most profound way to do this is to share wisdom that dispels illusion: in the Buddha’s words, to help people see that the snake they fear is actually just a rope. As the Dalai Lama teaches, just as happiness is dependent on the cultivation of positive states of mind, fear is dependent on the maintenance of negative states, which are in turn dependent on misperceptions. Helping a person with a burdensome task has the power to achieve not only a material outcome, but to shift that person’s perspective. Simple acts of kindness often have an impact far beyond the moment and circumstances in which they arise.

On Peace

“Mental peace is a basic need for all humankind.”

– How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life

“We may be wealthy and have abundant material facilities at our disposal, but as long as we are disturbed within our minds, we will have no peace.”

– Stages of Meditation

“If your mind is scattered, it is quite powerless. Distraction here and there opens the way for counterproductive emotions, leading to many kinds of trouble.”

-How to See Yourself As You Really Are

“The undisciplined mind is like an elephant. If left to blunder around out of control, it will wreak havoc. But the harm and suffering we encounter as a result of failing to restrain the negative impulses of mind far exceed the damage a rampaging elephant can cause.”

– Ethics for the New Millennium

“As long as there is a lack of the inner discipline that brings calmness of mind, no matter what external facilities or conditions you have, they will never give you the feeling of joy and happiness that you are seeking. On the other hand, if you possess this inner quality, a calmness of mind, a degree of stability within, then even if you lack various external facilities that you would normally consider necessary for happiness, it is still possible to live a happy and joyful life.” 

– The Art of Happiness

“It is helpful to think of adversity not so much as a threat to our peace of mind but rather as the very means by which patience is attained. From this perspective, we see that those who would harm us are, in a sense, teachers of patience.”

– Ethics for the New Millennium

“If we think about the projected injustices done to us, the ways in which we have been unfairly treated, and we keep on thinking about them over and over, then that feeds the hatred. It makes the hatred very powerful and intense. Of course, the same can apply to when we have an attachment towards a particular person; we can feed that by thinking about how beautiful he or she is, and as we keep thinking about the projected qualities that we see in the person, the attachment becomes more and more intense. But this shows how through constant familiarity and thinking, we ourselves can make our emotions more intense and powerful.”

– The Art of Happiness

“Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us. We are bound to the chains of bitterness, tied together, trapped. Until we can forgive the person who harmed us, that person will hold the keys to our happiness, that person will be our jailor. When we forgive, we take back control of our own fate and our feelings. We become our own liberator.”

– The Book of Joy

One of the most fundamental Buddhist teachings is that inner peace comes from within; it is entirely independent of external states. While freedom from a certain level of external strife makes the attainment of peace easier, a person with excellent mental discipline can find peace even in extremely violent or chaotic circumstances. A traditional Tibetan Buddhist teaching is to see everyone as a teacher, especially those who appear to be enemies. The Dalai Lama and many other Tibetan Buddhists were forced to put these teachings to the most extreme test as they suffered the hardships of persecution, exile, and even torture. Their ability to maintain peace was dependent on their ability to have compassion for those who harmed them.

Fortunately, most of us won’t be tested under such extreme circumstances. Instead, we learn how to maintain peace in the face of everyday adversity: rude treatment by strangers, traffic, frustrations at work, and misunderstandings with loved ones. The Dalai Lama does not advise us to be passive, but that we try to resolve difficulties with a peaceful mind. The best way to learn how to maintain equanimity in the face of adversity is to work directly with the mind, especially through the practice of meditation. Learning how to return the attention to the breath when thoughts arise helps train the mind for the greater challenge of letting go of negative emotions.

On Health

“Certainly I attribute the good health I enjoy to a generally calm and peaceful mind.”

– Ethics for the New Millennium

“Our own destructive emotions pollute our outlook, making healthy living impossible. We need to cleanse our own internal perspective through the practice of wise compassion.”

– How to Be Compassionate

“Peace, tranquillity, and others’ care are essential to recovery from illness. We can also identify a basic longing for peace. Why? Because peace suggests life and growth whereas violence suggests only misery and death.”

– Ethics for the New Millennium

“My earnest request is that you practice compassion whether you believe in a religion or not. Through this practice, you will come to realize the value of compassion for your own peace of mind. The very atmosphere of your own life becomes happier, which promotes good health, perhaps even a longer life.”

– How to Be Compassionate

“Consider the relationship between peace—which as we have seen is the fruit of love—and good health. According to my understanding, our constitution is more suited to peace and tranquility than to violence and aggression. We all know that stress and anxiety can lead to high blood pressure and other negative symptoms. In the Tibetan medical system, mental and emotional disturbances are considered to be a cause of many constitutional diseases.”

– Ethics for the New Millennium

“In identifying one’s mental state as the prime factor in achieving happiness, of course that doesn’t deny that our basic physical needs for food, clothing, and shelter must be met. But once these basic needs are met, the message is clear: we don’t need more money, we don’t need greater success or fame, we don’t need the perfect body or even the perfect mate – right now, at this very moment, we have a mind, which is all the basic equipment we need to achieve complete happiness.”

– The Art of Happiness

The Dalai Lama teaches that physical health is linked to a peaceful mind. This is a traditional Buddhist view, and in the last several decades has received increasing support from scientific research. In his work with the Mind and Life Institute and other scientific organisations, the Dalai Lama has been at the forefront of the dialogue between science and religion. One fundamental area of agreement between the two is the link between body and mind. Stress has been shown to not only cause immediate changes in blood pressure and immune response, but to contribute to the development of chronic conditions. Similarly, meditation and other practices that cultivate a peaceful mind, like yoga, have been linked with improved health.

This said, the Dalai Lama is careful to clarify that our striving for better health is only effective up to a point. People do not need to attain the “perfect body” or the perfect state of health to find peace. Just as people can learn how to face interpersonal adversity with a calm mind, peace is still possible when physical pain or ill health arise. By training the mind, people can learn how to let go of the thoughts and emotional states that increase discomfort and tension and identify with the ground of being, the peace that is always there underneath the pain and stress.

On Truth

“In our struggle for freedom, truth is the only weapon we possess.”

-1989 Nobel Lecture

“The more honest you are, the more open, the less fear you will have, because there’s no anxiety about being exposed or revealed to others.”

-The Art of Happiness

“So one fundamental attitude shared by Buddhism and science is the commitment to keep searching for reality by empirical means and to be willing to discard accepted or long-held positions if our search finds that the truth is different.”

-The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality

“In our usual state we are distracted, like water running everywhere, scattering the innate force of mind in multiple directions, making us incapable of clear perception of the truth.”

-How to See Yourself As You Really Are

“It is not enough to look at any given situation or problem from only one perspective. We need to look at it from this direction and that direction, from all sides.”

-Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World

“Similarly, when you are able to stop your mind from chasing sensory objects and thinking about the past and future and so on, and when you can free your mind from being totally ‘blanked out’ as well, then you will begin to see underneath this turbulence of the thought processes. There is an underlying stillness, an underlying clarity of the mind.”

-The Art of Happiness

Buddhist teachings emphasise the importance of truth. To the Dalai Lama and other Buddhists, truth is not that which can be believed, but something that is beyond belief. The difference has to do with the Buddhist view of thoughts, which are understood as a phenomenon at the surface of the mind rather than its deepest expression or nature. Thoughts can be useful in navigating day-to-day life but are also a primary source of confusion and suffering. It is only when people learn how to experience the deeper states of mind beneath the movement of thoughts that they gain clarity. Understanding that thoughts cannot capture the entire truth of a situation allows a person to be less fixed in their views and to respond more freely to life circumstances.

In Buddhism, wisdom and compassion are understood as essentially linked, two aspects of the same reality. Compassion only liberates when it is wise and grounded in truth, and wisdom is only meaningful to the extent it is linked to compassion. The cultivation of each is also linked; the wiser people become, the more compassionate they become, and vice versa. It is for this reason that the Dalai Lama focuses his teachings on the cultivation of compassion: it is a direct path to truth that does not demand perfect clarity or adherence to any particular belief system. The benefits of a more compassionate life are not limited to membership in any one religion.

On Life

“All human life is some part failure and some part achievement.”

-Time Magazine Interview

“Neither a space station nor an enlightened mind can be realized in a day.”

-How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life

“I believe the most important thing for humankind is its own creativity. I further believe that, in order to be able to exercise this creativity, people need to be free.”

-Freedom in Exile

“No dark fate determines the future. We do. Each day and each moment, we are able to create and re-create our lives and the very quality of human life on our planet. This is the power we wield.”

-The Book of Joy

“Gratitude is the recognition of all that holds us in the web of life and all that has made it possible to have the life that we have and the moment that we are experiencing.”

-The Book of Joy

“Change, on the infinitesimal level, is accompanied in our mind by an appearance of continuity. Yet the continuity thus perceived is illusory. For nothing remains the same, and no two consecutive instants are alike.”

-My Spiritual Journey

“In the frenzy of modern life we lose sight of the real value of humanity. People become the sum total of what they produce. Human beings act like machines whose function is to make money. This is absolutely wrong. The purpose of making money is the happiness of humankind, not the other way round. Humans are not for money, money is for humans.”

-How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life

“The work of a person laboring in some humble occupation is no less relevant to the well-being of society than that of, for example, a doctor, a teacher, a monk, or a nun. All human endeavor is potentially great and noble. So long as we carry out our work with good motivation, thinking, ‘My work is for others,’ it will be of benefit to the wider community.”

-Ethics for the New Millennium

“One very important factor for sustaining hope is to have an optimistic attitude. Optimism doesn’t mean that you are blind to the reality of the situation. It means that you remain motivated to seek a solution to whatever problems arise. Optimism involves looking at a situation not only in relation to problems that arise, but also seeking out some benefit—looking at it in terms of its potential positive outcome.”

-The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World

The Dalai Lama’s teachings about the way to achieve and maintain inner peace are simple: be kind and cultivate love and compassion. However, he is also comfortable with life’s complexities. He acknowledges that even he makes mistakes and gets angry. He remarks upon our need to come together to address challenges like environmental degradation and social injustice, and how these require multifaceted solutions.

The importance of consistent practice on the spiritual path is also emphasised. This path is not a permanent solution to life’s problems or a form of control, but a way of moving through life’s challenges with peace and clarity. The point of meditation is not to completely rid the mind of thoughts, but to practice bringing the attention back when distractions arise. Likewise, the aim of practising compassion is not to achieve a state where anger never arises, but to learn how to return to a loving state of mind after it does.

Seeing life in this way brings its own peace, as it reminds us that the happiness we seek is not on the other side of a permanent attainment, but is always as close as our ability to return to it. Life’s value does not lie in what can be measured, listed on a resume, or added to a bank account. We might do different jobs or have differing levels of status or wealth, but we all fundamentally seek happiness and all find it in the same place: in ourselves.

Muse Headband Case Study: Father (non-meditator) vs. Son (Meditator)

When you were a kid, did you have a favourite superhero?

I did. My favourite character was, and still is, Wolverine. There’s both an obvious reason for this, and a more subtle one. The obvious one is his anger.

Anger is one of the most suppressed emotions in modern society, and young men often don’t have an outlet for it. That’s why they’re drawn to violence in the forms of video games, movies, and certain types of music.

The more subtle is his character. Wolverine (aka Logan) is a loner who has been alive since 1832. He’s seen the world change, he’s seen people change, and he’s seen the capacity for good and bad in people. Wolverine is the witness who sees things from a bird’s eye view.  I liked that for the same reason I liked historical movies – it gave me a sense of continuity and connection between people and cultures throughout time. It reminded me of a quote by the French Novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse:

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

There’s another superhero who’s been incredibly popular in recent years. His movies have grossed over a billion dollars. Because people can relate to him, they want to be him.

Iron Man.

Iron Man’s draw is that people see themselves in him. It’s technology that gives him his strength, despite his obvious character flaws; abrasiveness, stubbornness, alcoholism. And in a modern world fascinated by technology, that’s relatable.

But how close could we really come to being like Iron Man?

Could we fly? Could we have superhuman strength? How far could our physiological advancements go?

And if we consider this question within the context of the mind and meditation.

How could technology supercharge our minds? To what degree and in what way could it improve our experience with meditation practices?

Advocates of neurotechnology will likely say that meditation was developed without modern scientific rigour. They’ll argue that the efficacy of practices would make leaps and bounds if they were assisted by technology and underwent longitudinal studies and double-blind trials.

Meditation purists will argue that there is no place for technology in practice. That the best case scenario is that it is distracting and encourages laziness, and worst case is that it is damaging to the practice and the traditions themselves.

I’ve been considering this question for a while. I believe myself to be a secular and scientifically minded meditator. However, I also have a deep heartfelt appreciation for the cultural aspects of meditation and am a believer in the power of bhakti (devotional) practices.

So to delve a bit deeper into this question I thought I would do something practical as opposed to theoretical, and I purchased the Muse Meditation Headband. For its price point, the best available consumer-tech when it comes to meditation.

What is the Muse Meditation Headband?

The Muse Brain-Sensing Headband is a neurofeedback device that works on EEG technology. The slick band is adjustable and fits comfortably around your head, with two sensors resting against your ears. After the first session, I didn’t even notice that the band was there.

Developed by a Toronto based tech company called InteraXon, the portable device has been around since 2012 after having been crowdfunded on IndieGoGo. There is an accompanying app for the Muse, available for iOS and Android, which tracks your sessions and gives you live audio feedback depending on how your mind is going. There are five tracks to choose from for your meditation sessions: rainforest, beach, desert, ambient music, and city park, and you can decide how short or long you would like it to be.

The feedback categorises your mind into three states: active (the wandering mind), neutral (a resting state), and calm (a deep restful focus). I found that in the calm state thoughts still arose, but they were much more subtle than in the other two.

What the Muse app does that is very interesting is that it gamifies the process. So for every second you are in the calm state you receive 3 points. When you spend significant time in the calm period, birds will chirp, which is designed to condition your mind to know when it is in a calm state. Digital awards are also then given depending on time and percentage spent in calm, as well as number of points/birds and the length of sessions.

It’s important to notice that the EEG feedback is consumer-grade and not laboratory-grade. The Muse has been designed for Focused-Attention Meditation, which means other practices sometimes invoke what the device considers neutral or active states.

My experience suggests that the second version of the Muse has fixed early issues some customers had; the device now allows you to meditate as long as you want, the battery life lasted me at least ten hours, and I had no issues with the connection dropping out.

The Science behind the Muse

“It won’t be long until we are ‘prescribing’ Muse headsets and an App to our patients with anxiety, depression or stress, instead of medicating them.” – Daniel Kraft, MD, Exponential Medicine

We know that meditation has been validated by science, but to what extent has the Muse itself been used in empirical studies? Well, it turns out quite a bit. However, if you’re (very) sceptically minded I would recommend doing your own research into what degree InteraXon and affiliates funded *cough* these studies.

To be fair, it looks like some high profile researchers at institutions such as MIT, Harvard, and the University of Toronto, have used the Muse in their research. You can see some of the scientific papers via the Muse website here – it does seem that at the very least Muse is as effective as traditional mindfulness training.

I’m generally sceptical of research claims, particularly with something as broad and complex as meditation. However, I said that to also say that I don’t think you need to wait for research to see the benefits of practice.

In the case of meditation, it’s much more useful to follow anecdotal evidence – which is the point of this article.

If the Buddhists had waited for Harvard to validate their methods before starting a practice, they would’ve been waiting 2,500 years!

Muse Case Study – Beginner

To test out the efficacy of the Muse on a beginner meditator I used my dad. I thought he was a good test subject for a number of reasons.

  • He has expressed interest in Meditation and would be more likely to commit with technological support
  • He has expressed interest in the Muse
  • He has taken a 4-weekend mindfulness course though still seemed a little confused with the practice
  • As we have similar temperaments (and genetics), I thought it would be a good experiment to compare how my mind may have looked before starting a meditation practice

All in all he fits the demographic for someone who is likely to purchase the product.

So how did it go?

Before the first session, he was given basic instructions to practice mindfulness of the breath. After the Friday Evening session (23% calm) he said that he felt mind was wandering and he still didn’t really get what he was supposed to be doing. Following the second session, I told him to go through a meditation ritual and try to let go of the idea of meditating and allow the sounds of the app to guide him.

After Saturday (63%) and Sunday (75% calm) meditations, he reported feeling “a lot more calm” and that he “was starting to understand where he was supposed to take his mind.” He later remarked that a few sessions with the Muse had been more helpful than the 4-weekend mindfulness course he’d taken a couple of years back (which cost around $400). Though I would always recommend going with a teacher, these kinds of courses often don’t have the time to offer personalised feedback to students in such a short period of time.

From the data of 5 sessions, we were also able to determine what hours he was most effective, as well as a couple of subtle personal and professional stressors had a negative impact on his meditations.

Muse Case Study – Intermediate

I consider myself an intermediate meditator. I would say over the last three years I have done somewhere roughly between 750 and 850 hours of meditation – with the majority of that (say 70%) in the last 18 months. On average about 45 minutes a day, some days a couple of hours, some days half an hour.

And it seems that all those hours have definitely paid off.

There was an obvious difference between my sessions of the intermediate and beginner. Both in duration and length of calm.

There are two main takeaways from this comparison:

  1. The 75% achieved by a beginner I believe is quite high. I think that the Muse can cut down a lot of the early stages of confusing around meditation and get over the feeling of being in the dark around your practice.
  2. There is a huge (dare I say life-changing) difference that can occur in just a few years of consistent meditation practice.

Interesting things to note:

  • My best session with 100% calm didn’t feel as deep as my second best session with 98% calm.
  • The spike in the middle of the Friday morning session was when my neighbour started playing the violin.
  • I found that doing my own practices as opposed to following the instructions was much more effective.
  • I was able to go deepest when practicing self-inquiry and nondual meditations – however, because these techniques are subtle, it’s easy to slip into the thinking-mind which would sometimes spike me into neutral.
  • Any practice that required visualisation – I used a Sufi heart meditation and a Buddhist Metta practice – would be more active. Though this could be because I less have experience with these techniques.

So would I recommend the Muse? Well that depends on where you are with your practice and what you want out of it.

Beginner Meditators

I would 100% recommend the Muse for beginner meditators – I really wish I had one when I started. I would say it’s common for almost everyone who is just starting (and even occasionally after a hundred hours) to have the question “am I doing this right?” – in this case, tangible feedback is absolutely invaluable.

In the beginning, meditation is confusing and it can feel a little like a waste of money and potentially that you’re floundering around in the dark. The Muse gives you immediate results that are both practical and motivating, which is vital when starting to build the habit of meditation. It will also teach you to let go of attachments to the result of each sitting.

As a side note, for beginners, building the habit of meditation is infinitely more valuable than having ‘deep’ meditation sessions.

If you have the money to spend, go for it. I’m always one to advocate investing in meditation products, whether that’s books, courses or retreats. If you’re diligent with your efforts, the money spent will reveal itself to be one of the best decisions you ever make.

A lot of new meditators can’t tell the difference in the feeling between different states of Mind. They may experience sleepiness, hypnosis, mind wandering and meditation and assume they are all the same.

Because sleepiness and hypnosis, and even certain types of mind wandering, are calming, they may be mistaken for meditation and real change may not be taking place in your brain. I suspect that this is the case for A LOT of practitioners who don’t have an experienced formal teacher to guide them.

As a beginner, the Muse will also show you some ways your mind is influenced that can take a little while of practice to validate, such as:

  • How your mind responds to caffeine
  • How your mind responds to certain foods, e.g. dairy, wheat, protein
  • What time of the day you’re most alert
  • How your mind respond to different stressors: work, relationships, conflict
  • How quickly your mind can build its focus-muscle

Intermediate Meditators

For someone who has a few years of consistent meditation under their belt, I would still recommend the Muse – but only if you’ve got some cash lying around. It won’t revolutionise your practice, but it did give me some subtle insights into the different mind states. I would say that it’s given me a little more clarify on when I’m ‘feeling’ and when I’m ‘thinking’.

I think the app was also pretty effective in showing me how to transfer a state of calm that I can bring to my daily activities. The sessions with the Muse also got me into the flow state a lot quicker and tend to feel about 30% shorter, i.e. 30 minutes feels like 20 and an hour like 40.

However, one of the downsides was that, for more advanced techniques, the Muse doesn’t allow for a creative approach. Anything to do with self-inquiry (though I did this), exploring emotions or letting go of attachments isn’t really appropriate for the Muse. I would also say that for me personally it brought up a competitive feeling (very un-meditative I know) but this was something I needed to let go of a few times all the same, and is always a useful lesson.

Advanced Meditators

I would suspect that after a few sessions with the Muse, Advanced Meditators would score consistently between 98% and 100%. A more nuanced (and expensive) technology would be necessary for advancement meditators to gauge any significant feedback.

It could still be fun to play around with, but I don’t imagine it provides much practical help.


The Muse is incredibly affordable compared to other devices of a similar comfort and quality, such as the Versus Headset ($799). You can get the Muse at for $249USD.

I’m an affiliate for Muse which means I get 15% of the purchase price when you visit their website through this link.

Do you have any questions about the Muse? What do you think about using technology to enhance meditation?

Let me know in the comments; I’d love to hear from you!


The Psychology of Love: 7 Benefits of Loving-Kindness Meditation

Love is not an object you share with someone.

Love is a feeling that is skillfully cultivated within yourself, and the more adept you become at receiving and expressing love, the more you will experience it.

Fortunately, meditation is the perfect art to cultivate that skill. Practices for hundreds and in some case thousands of years; from Sufism to Buddhism, Mystic Christianity to Hinduism, have all seen universal love as something that is a fundamental part of life.

As a result, love has also formed a core part of spiritual practice. Many believe that it is a core characteristic of consciousness, and the most direct way to experience truth or god or the infinite, or whatever you wish to name it.

What is Loving-Kindness Meditation?

Put most simply, Loving-Kindness Meditation (LKM) is the practice of cultivating the feeling of universal love – love for all beings, as opposed to personal or romantic love. This is typically done by directing well-wishes towards yourself and others. In Buddhism this is known as Metta, or compassion meditation.

Both Tibetan Buddhism and Bhakti Yoga emphasise the importance of cultivating love, which is why mindfulness and LKM became very popular in America following the emergence of teachers such as Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, and Ram Dass.

It was unsurprising that such a practice would strike a chord in Western culture, which is often criticised for being too individualistic and lacking in deep interpersonal connection.

The Pali Canon, a collection of scriptures in the Theravadan Buddhist tradition says of LKM:

“One sleeps easily, wakes easily, dreams no evil dreams.….One’s mind gains concentration quickly. One’s complexion is bright. One dies unconfused.”

There is, however, a practical benefit to LKM. It can be easy, with our exposure to particular meditative practices to look towards strict single-point focus techniques, which resonate with our drive for productivity, or mindfulness, which is typically promoted as a way to manage our emotions. LKM on the other hand decreases our experience of negative emotion, which has a strong effect on our thoughts. When we have a more positive outlook, the monkey mind naturally quietens down and associated issues with focus or anxiety tend to dissipate.

Getting off the hedonic treadmill

The hedonic treadmill is the label given to the human tendency to return to a more or less stable baseline of happiness following significant positive or negative life experiences. We commonly see this with people who win the lottery who are briefly happy but then soon return to “life as normal.”

This effect is largely because expectations and desires increase with changes in experience, hence why we stay on the ‘hedonic treadmill’ and typically don’t have permanent gains in happiness.

However, there is a way off the hedonic treadmill. Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say there is a way to outpace the hedonic treadmill. That was is Loving-Kindness Meditation.

Because there are essentially no limits to meditation i.e. you can constantly shift intensity, length and the focus of sessions, it offers a way to continually improve positive emotions and happiness.

Increased Positive Emotions and Life Satisfaction

One of the most well-known studies on LKM, run by Barbara Fredrickson and her colleagues, found that 7-weeks of practice had a number of positive outcomes. Most notably, it showed an increase in the daily experience of positive emotions, which as a result, increased mindfulness and life purpose, and decreased illness symptoms. LKM consistently improved feelings of positive emotions in a way that was able to transcend the tendency to return to a baseline state of happiness – meaning that it was able to overcome the hedonic treadmill effect.

However, there are a number of other studies showing further benefits of LKM.

Decreased Depressive Symptoms

The Fredrickson study also revealed that the increase in positive emotions, having predicted life satisfaction, also lowered depressive symptoms in participants. This could suggest an important utility for using loving-kindness as a treatment for mood disorders. Other proof-of-concept studies have also reinforced the potential for LKM as a clinical intervention, and self-compassion has been established as a key trait which helps buffer against depressive episodes.

Decreases Migraines and Chronic Pain

A 2014 study found that meditation-naive participants who had two to ten migraines a month found a 33% decrease in pain and a 43% decrease in emotional tension. The researchers concluded that even a single 20-minute session could have positive impacts in hospitals. A similar study found that an 8-week LKM program for those who experienced chronic lower back pain found decreases in pain on the day of the practice, and less anger the day following the practice.

Increases feelings of social connection and empathy

In one study it was found that practising LKM increased vagal tone, the activity of the vagus nerve, which indicates the functioning parasympathetic (calming) nervous system. This was shown to likewise increase feelings of social connection and feelings of warmth and positive thoughts about others. Social connection has also been found to be associated with feelings of love and empathy.

Increased energy

Somewhat unsurprisingly, LKM has also been found to increase feelings of energy in practitioners. This is likely because negative feelings and thoughts typically tend to take from our energy reserves, whereas meditation revitalises them.

Increased Dopamine

Feelings of compassion towards others have also been shown to activate dopamine, which is a powerful neurotransmitter that works to calm our nervous systems and increase our energy. Dopamine is also known as the “reward” chemical, which means every time you practice LKM you’re receiving a positive reinforcement.

Decreases in Schizophrenia-Spectrum Disorders and PTSD

Independent studies have also shown that an LKM intervention can decrease the negative symptoms and increase positive emotions in those who suffer from PTSD and Schizophrenia-Spectrum Disorders.

The benefits of practice loving-kindness obviously have huge potential from a clinical perspective. However, the real utility is not in the management of mental health, but in the cultivation of mental wellbeing.

The Dalai Lama who comes from a tradition which heavily orientates itself towards compassion famously said:

“If every 8 year old is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world in one generation.”

Though it’s unlikely that, in all practicality, this would be the case, it is likely that we could greatly improve wellbeing in a way that we can’t even imagine. Compassion and connection are among the fundamental tenets of all spiritual traditions, and to cultivate them in such a direct way can be truly gratifying.

What is your experience with Loving-Kindness? Let me know in the comments!