Loading...
Menu

7 Cups for the Searching Soul

p={color:#000;}.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Cups of Tea, by Lu Tong (795 – 835 CE)

 

The first cup kisses away my thirst,

and my loneliness is quelled by the second.

The third gives insight worthy of ancient scrolls,

and the fourth exiles my troubles.

My body becomes lighter with the fifth,

and the sixth sends word from immortals.

But the seventh—oh the seventh cup—

if I drink you, a wind will hurry my wings

toward the sacred island.

Translated by Christopher Nelson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 Cups & Cultivation Press, 2016.

© 2016 by 7 Cups and Cultivation Press. Work is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License (International): http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/

 

Part I: The Infection – Denial and Distraction

Welcome

 

Chapter 1: A Story

Chapter 2: Denial

Chapter 3: Distractions

 

Chapter 4: Problems

Part II: The Antidote – 7 Cups

Chapter 5: A Place for You

 

Chapter 6: Cup 1: Open: Share What is on Your Heart

Chapter 7: Cup 2: Attune: Attune to Love

Chapter 8: Cup 3: Practice: Practice Skills to Increase Calm

Chapter 9: Cup 4: Live: Sleep, Eat, and Exercise Well

Chapter 10: Cup 5: Accept: Accept What Life Brings You

Chapter 11: Cup 6: Care: Care for Others that Need Support

Chapter 12: Cup 7: Commit: Live According to What is Important

 

Closing Note

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome!

 

Really glad you started this book. We’ve been working hard on it. Get yourself a hot cup of coffee or tea, a pen, and a notebook. Find a good spot to sit and get comfortable. We have lots to talk about.

 

This book covers some challenging terrain. Some of the information is simple and easy. Other parts are a little bit more complicated. They take some time to navigate. For these parts, you’ll need to pause and consider the points. You’ll need to think about your own life and reflect. This isn’t the kind of book that you want to rush through. It isn’t a race. There is no prize for getting done quickly.

 

Some of the items that we are going to talk about can be considered hard items. They make most people feel uncomfortable, because we are breaking the rules a little bit. There are set on and agreed upon ways of seeing things. Some of these agreed upon ways are not accurate. They wrongfully make some of us feel bad about ourselves. We don’t even consciously consider them. They just kind of sneak in under our radar. We are going to bring them to your awareness and talk through them with you. We don’t want you to have to continue to carry a burden that you can drop beside you.

 

We will also provide you with the understanding and skills you need to move through worry and fear to the life your heart desires. We will teach you how to face and overcome problems so you can unlock the hidden gifts they contain. Finally, we will share a secret with you about how to tap into the nourishing power of love by caring for other people around you.

For now, however, just a couple more thoughts for you personally before we get started. True, we do not know you personally, but we’ve been thinking quite a bit about the readers of this book and though we do not know you, we likely have a pretty good idea of who you are. That being the case, there are some things we need to tell you right up front.

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. We believe in you. Maybe you don’t see your potential, maybe you hide your promise, maybe you make life more difficult than it needs to be. It doesn’t matter. We still believe in you. You can grow through these challenges and get to the other side. We’ve seen lots and lots of people just like you do it. We believe you can do it too.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. We are not interested in judging you. Your life makes sense. You make sense in the larger story of your life. You might not believe this right now, but we do. You made the best decisions you knew to make. We all have regrets. Some of these regrets are our fault. Many are not. Remember, hindsight is 20/20. We do what we do with what we have. We’d ask you to let go of the past now and consider the start of this book an opportunity to make a fresh start moving forward. Stop and think about that for a second. A fresh start. You. starting. fresh. now. A new chapter. The next page. A brand new direction.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Realize that personal growth is not easy. It isn’t a straight line. Growth is challenging. It comes in fits and starts. You’ll struggle, you’ll have hard times, sometimes things won’t make sense. This has nothing to do with you. This is just life. This is how it is.

Many people like to pretend life is crystal clear. It isn’t (and it isn’t clear for them either). Life is often confusing and feeling unsure is pretty normal. This is what it feels like to be human. And, because you are human, you are going to make lots of mistakes. You won’t stay on the path. You’ll get lost. You’ll get distracted. That’s okay. When this happens, just brush yourself off and make your way back to the path. Don’t spend any time beating yourself up. Just pick yourself up and take that next step forward. The path is always there. It is always waiting for you.

 

That’s it. Those are the three main items we wanted to tell you before you get started. Oh, one last piece, you can also find a community of fellow travelers at 7cups.com. We’ve been walking this path for a while and you would be more than welcome to join us!

-The 7 Cups Community

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

A Story

 

I want to open this book with the story of what happened on the planet Ancora. This story occurs at a time of crisis – a terrible virus was sweeping through the population. This virus attacked the brain, leaving the person in a trance-like state, while the body still functioned. Here on Earth, we would call them zombie like.

 

The truth is that the virus had always existed within the population of Ancora. It was hard to see it because it was so closely linked with its hosts. It took the Ancorans thousands of years to understand what they were fighting against. Scientists, through a series of fortunate accidents, were eventually able to discover and then pinpoint that the virus thrived when the mind was in a state of fear.

 

Wanting very much to be free from the virus, the wealthy people on Ancora immediately began using their resources to control their fear. They built thick walls around their homes and made their lives untouchable. Gradually, their culture changed and became built on proving that they could do everything themselves and needed no one. In time, they even agreed that social interactions should be limited because they were so unpredictable. When someone tried to speak from the heart, others withdrew from them.

 

Finally, a clever person figured out how to better manage fear through the use of pain-reducing devices. It didn’t take long before each wealthy Ancoran had a hand-held device that could release calming chemicals into the brain at the first sign of anxiety. Ancorans carried them everywhere, using them nonchalantly on the street, at work or at school, anytime they needed relief. It seemed like the perfect solution.

 

There was only one problem: it didn’t work.

 

The virus wasn’t being controlled – it was growing at an even faster rate. The devices only masked the problem. The more people tried to escape their pain and fear, the more sensitive they became to the smallest disruptions in their day and so the virus continued to spread.

 

What a conundrum. The scientists couldn’t make sense of all the evidence they had in front of them. Up to this point, they had been working tirelessly to bring relief to the wealthy parts of Ancora. When all of their theories seemed to fail, they began to broaden their scope and look at what was happening in the poorer, less-developed parts of Ancora. These people could not afford the pain-relieving devices or other luxuries. Shockingly, the scientists found that the virus showed no growth in these areas.

 

There was another group that the scientists also noticed. These were people who were living in the developed parts of the world, but didn’t quite fit in with the cultural norms. For some, they had endured so much pain or fear in their lives, that the devices could not numb their experience. If they had overcome the problems in their lives, they were admired and seen as spiritual leaders. If they were still suffering, they were dismissed as hurt or mentally ill and further isolated from society. What all of these Ancorans shared was that they had escaped the spread of the virus.

 

The real breakthrough for Ancora came from a scientist raised in the humblest of places, one of the poorest countries on the planet. He had risen through the global scientific ranks with his talent and fortitude and this scientist was able to see the puzzle from a unique perspective. He developed a simple theory that, while fear triggers the virus, the only cure was true human care and compassion. He was able to show that in places where human need persisted, among the poor and hurting, people had no choice but to care for one another and provide for each other’s needs. This, he suggested, was why the virus was not able to grow in those parts of the world. The scientist was able to show something truly astounding: in the most dire situations, where the virus was expected to thrive, the virus was nearly eradicated when neighbors reached out to each other with care.

 

This theory lined up with the experience of those who had endured and overcome great trials and losses in the developed world as well, who seemed so much more hearty and able to resist the virus. It also explained why the wealthy Ancorans, using their riches to become more distant from each other every day, were experiencing such an unprecedented outbreak of the disease. They had convinced themselves that they had no need; that they should not depend on others. It threatened everything about them, about what they believed, to realize that need was the pathway to healing.

 

Avoiding fear, it turned out, only created more fear and trying to fix the problem as individuals, each on their own, separated the people from the one true cure. Facing fear and pain with the help of others created resilience. The scientists tried to name the cure based on their research. Some saw it as existing between individuals, springing up between friends and neighbors in relationships, and they called it Trust. Some understood it as an ability to believe that the outcome would be good and that beyond fear was joy – these called it Hope. Some thought of it as the seed of something deeper, that could cure not only the virus but all of the other struggles on Ancora, even famine, war, and disease. It could grow them into what they were meant to be. These called it Love.

Explanation

 

We shared this story with you because sometimes it is easier to see things in “other” people or cultures. When we imagine uncomfortable things as far away or taking place somewhere else, they become less threatening to us. We can walk up to them, get close, and touch them.

 

The world we talked about in that story is really our world, just very thinly disguised. Many people in our advanced societies experience a similar type of zombie-like feeling. And, like the Marudians, when we try to escape from pain and fear, we really only make it worse. But it is hard to admit this and reach out for help. There are a lot of social pressures against asking for help.

 

People that are hurting or poor experience more pain and need than many people in our advanced societies. Other people feel excluded and less able to play the game. People in poor countries experience more sickness, violence and poverty. Things go wrong a lot more frequently for people in these groups. Unfortunately, they often compare themselves with people in the more advanced societies and feel ashamed that they need help.

 

Nobody likes asking for help, but it can be particularly challenging for many people in our advanced societies. Problems – even though they are a central and undeniable part of life – can feel embarrassing or shameful. The messaging is clear. People in the advanced groups are not supposed to have problems. Everything is always peachy keen. The unspoken rule is that problems should be hidden and kept out of sight.

 

Sadly, this approach keeps many people in a place of quiet suffering. They feel alone in their private pain. This unwillingness to let others in – whether it be from fear, shame, or pain – is what keeps folks in denial and in this zombie-like mindset.

 

The irony here is that many of the advanced people are actually the most ill. Billions are spent each year trying to convince the world that the most advanced among us are to be admired. Everyone should hunger for what they have. In a less than subtle way, the message to people that are poor and unusual is that they are wanting, that they are fundamentally not okay. What’s more tragic, is that often times these folks, without realizing it, accept this message. What they do not yet understand is that they may indeed be the healthier ones. They may be the people that are actually on the right track. Yes, life is harder for them. The need and the pain is real, but they are alive. They are struggling and seeking help. They are not numb. In fact, they may hold the cure that the advanced people need, but none of them can see it.

 

It is hidden.

 

The Secret

 

What is it that hurt and poor people have that advanced people do not have?

 

They have need.

 

Need forces you to face your problems and ask for help in solving them. Once you receive the help, you feel better and want to help others. This is the basic process that creates healing.

 

 

If you are ashamed of admitting that you have problems, then you cannot ask for help. If you cannot ask for help, then you cannot receive help. Without receiving real help, you may find it hard to genuinely help other people.

 

People that are poor are in a better position to receive help because they are less able to deny their pain and act like all is well. Their problems are very real and force them to seek out other people. This process of asking for, receiving, and giving help is what keep us well. It keeps us from becoming zombie-like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Denial

 

Denial is a core process we all experience. Denial can be good. When you are in crisis, you want to be in denial about certain things because it helps you survive. For example, when my kids were born 10 weeks premature, I needed to be in denial about their real chances of survival because I needed to focus on the things I could change. Denial, however, can also problematic in that it can keep you from making changes in your life that will help you and those you love. The zombie-like process described in Chapter 1 is built on the bad kind of denial. This chapter explains how denial develops and is maintained.

 

The first part to understanding denial, is to understand that we operate on both conscious and unconscious levels.

 

You’ll recall the iceberg metaphor. The part above the surface represents the conscious mind. The much larger part below the surface represents the unconscious mind. We like to believe that we are fully aware, but much of what we think, feel, and do actually happens below the surface, outside of our awareness.

 

 

My wife and I have had the good fortune of parenting 4 beautiful children. We’ve seen them all grow up and change. It is always fascinating to see a child learn how to walk, eat, or climb stairs. None of this comes naturally. Kids have to learn how to do these behaviors. If you haven’t yet, try to watch a new baby learning to eat with a spoon. It is really tough for them. Eating requires a lot of conscious attention and hand-eye coordination to make sure the spoon reaches their mouth. When they are first learning, they often miss and get the food all over their cheeks and clothes.

 

When was the last time time that you missed your mouth with a spoon? Learning this behavior once required conscious thought, awareness, and concentration. Once mastered, however, it is moved to the unconscious mind so the conscious mind can focus on the next big important item to learn.

 

Let’s look at one more example. Many of you can remember learning to drive. Learning to drive also requires conscious thought. You have to pay attention to the signals, braking, and steering. If you drive a standard or a manual, then it requires even more conscious attention. You need to learn when to shift from gear to gear, which can be particularly challenging on a hill. Can you remember how nervous you were, how challenging it was when you first started? Then, within months, as you gained mastery, all of this became second nature. You don’t even have to think about it. Driving gets moved to the unconscious mind – or pushed outside of your awareness – because you have already figured it out. This frees up the conscious mind to tackle the next big project that requires deliberate thought.

Relating to others is also a process we learn consciously that eventually becomes unconscious.

 

You may not remember, but learning to relate to people initially required a lot of conscious thought. Once mastered, it too, was moved to the unconscious mind. Virginia Satir, one of our most famous family therapists, said, “Families are people factories.” She meant that we learn how to relate to others during our early experiences of our families. The patterns of interacting that we use today were set up early on in our lives and were reinforced over and over again until they became automatic and part of our unconscious. Our peers and others influence us as well, but the basics are learned very early on and inform much of how we think about ourselves and others later on in life.

 

 

 

There is one very important side effect of this early learning about how to interact with others…it’s called “the shadow

 

One thing we learn from these early relationships is that there are some parts of ourselves that are “good” and some parts of ourselves that are “bad”. We are all born very unique people with different strengths, weaknesses, and oddities. We naturally express all of these different components of ourselves as babies and young children. Gradually, however, different people message to us that some of these attributes are less acceptable than others. Authority figures tend to like it when we are kind and compliant and like it less when we are opinionated and stubborn. What happens, gradually, is that many of the “good” components get validated, accepted, and integrated into who we are. These pieces become conscious and a part of our identity.

 

There are other parts of us that are not validated, not accepted, and these pieces become dis-integrated from our identity or sense of who we are. However, even though they are dis-owned, they do not go away. They stay kind of stuck in our unconscious minds, just below the surface, outside of our awareness. We may experience them when we let our minds wander, in our dreams, and they sometimes burst into our conscious life and cause us to behave or make decisions in ways that seem out of character.

 

In the language of Jung, these unacceptable parts become a part of “the shadow”; they are the pieces of our self that are not in the light, not in our conscious, hidden below the surface of the iceberg.

 

Robert Bly (1988) has captured this well:

 

Let’s talk about the personal shadow first. When we were one or two years old we had what we might visualize as a 360-degree personality. Energy radiated out from all parts of our body and all parts of our psyche. A child running is a living globe of energy. We had a ball of energy, all right; but one day we noticed that our parents didn’t like certain parts of that ball. They said things like: “Can’t you be still?” Or “It isn’t nice to try and kill your brother.” Behind us we have an invisible bag, and the part of us our parents don’t like, we, to keep our parents’ love, put in the bag. By the time we go to school our bag is quite large. Then our teachers have their say: “Good children don’t get angry over such little things.” So we take our anger and put it in the bag. By the time my brother and I were twelve in Madison, Minnesota we were known as “the nice Bly boys.” Our bags were already a mile long.

 

Then we do a lot of bag-stuffing in high school. This time it’s no longer the evil grownups that pressure us, but people our own age. So the student’s paranoia about grownups can be misplaced. I lied all through high school automatically to try to be more like the basketball players. Any part of myself that was a little slow went into the bag. My sons are going through the process now; I watched my daughters, who were older, experience it. I noticed with dismay how much they put into the bag, but there was nothing their mother or I could do about it. Often my daughters seemed to make their decision on the issue of fashion and collective ideas of beauty, and they suffered as much damage from other girls as they did from men.

 

So I maintain that out of a round globe of energy the twenty-year-old ends up with a slice.

 

 

 

Bly goes on to talk about how different cultures influence the repressing of different parts of ourselves. In the United States, females are supposed to deny the more masculine side. They are encouraged to be less directive and assertive. The “bossy” campaign illustrated this wonderfully. Males, on the other hand, shouldn’t be too feminine, emotional or tender. The more we ignore these unintegrated pieces of ourselves, the less developed they become. They stay stunted and immature.

 

 

 

Although these characteristics are very threatening inside of us, we can become very attracted to them when we see them portrayed in the outside world, in books or movies. At that safer distance, we can experience these parts of ourselves vicariously, getting a kind of release of the building pressure they create inside of us. This is why movies and books about sex, horror, and violence are so popular.

 

But even with these cultural releases, the split off parts of ourselves do not ever really leave us alone. They keep knocking on our door and asking to be let in. They keep popping up above the surface. They want to be integrated, to become part of who you are.

 

Why do we keep them away?

 

We keep them away because they are scary.

 

Why are they scary?

 

The split off parts of ourselves are scary because when we originally acted in and through them, back when we were small, they caused problems in our relationships with our parents or caregivers.

 

Here is a common example: many parents struggle when their kids are overly strong or angry. Parents, often times not meaning to, overcorrect this type of behavior. They may respond to anger, repeatedly, in a harsh manner or they may, unconsciously, withdraw from the child emotionally. Regardless, the child gets the message that anger threatens the relationship they have with their parents. This is anxiety provoking to a child because they need their parents in order to survive. They are dependent on them to live. What happens, gradually, is that the child learns that in order to maintain a close relationship with parents, they need to keep those angry feelings at bay. This happens repeatedly and the child eventually becomes walled off from their sense of anger. It is pushed down below the surface, into the unconscious.

 

Now, anger is a normal human emotion. It is the emotion of protection. It helps you stand up for yourself and other people you care about. When anger gets shut down, it is harder for you to keep good interpersonal boundaries or advocate for yourself at school or work.

 

The rejected parts of ourselves cause us anxiety.

 

In this childhood process, anger causes anxiety because the expression of anger is connected to the experience of parents behaving harshly or withdrawing. The child quickly learns this, so whenever anger rumbles to the surface, anxiety is right there next to it. They become linked together. Anxiety is an extraordinarily uncomfortable emotion. We want to get rid of anxiety as much as humanly possible. Do you know what works great for getting rid of anxiety and anger? You guessed it…denial.

 

There is an unconscious process called the triangle of conflict that keeps our systems balanced.

 

Image credit: http://www.coachwiththegreenhat.com/the-biggest-lie-i-have-no-time/malan-triangle-of-conflict-with-text/

 

In this example, it consists of anger, anxiety, and denial. You can think of this like an air conditioning system. Once a room gets too hot as measured by the thermostat, the air conditioner automatically turns on and starts blowing cold air into the room. Once the room is cooled off, the thermostat tells the air conditioner to turn off. This system keeps the room at an even temperature. We have our own internal thermostat that keeps these parts of ourselves and our anxiety down. It is denial.

 

If you grew up in a home where your anger or strength was not acceptable, then, as an adult, you’ll start to feel anxious whenever you feel angry. As a result, denial will kick in and you’ll push away the issue, as well as your internal anger. This denial will help you distance yourself from your anger and get you back to a place of balance or equanimity. Just like a thermostat triggers the air conditioning to cool down a room, anxiety triggers denial to decrease anger and get you back to a comfortable spot.

 

 

 

Remember, this happens on an unconscious level. There is no conscious choice made. The reaction was learned when you were very young and learning how to interact in relationships; now it just happens automatically.

 

As adults, we are attracted to people and experiences that support our unconscious relationship patterns.

 

These patterns, once setup, tend to be reinforced over and over again. They feel comfortable and well-worn, kind of like an old sweater or pair of shoes that we like. They are familiar and predictable. We know what to expect. When people treat us in ways that are consistent or reinforce these old patterns we feel secure.

 

One of the great challenges that humans face is that we will continue in relationships that are bad for us if they feel familiar and predictable. This is not a good thing. If I am raised by parents that value submissiveness and compliance and I establish this as a pattern of relating, then I’ll feel most comfortable in relationships with friends and romantic partners that are dominant or difficult to please. If someone is interested in helping me grow stronger, stand up for myself, or have better boundaries, then I’ll feel less comfortable with this person. This person may even be genuinely trying to help me and be a force for good in my life. However, because it is different, inconsistent with how I see myself, and, unconsciously, threatening, I’ll be less comfortable in this type of relationship. They inadvertently trigger my anxiety.

 

Amazing, right?

 

We’ll highlight one example to further flesh this out. Think of a friend who is dating or married to someone that is clearly bad for them. Everyone knows that the person is bad for them. They mistreat them, take advantage of them, make them feel bad. They might even be abusive. You don’t like this other person. Nobody does…except your friend.

 

Why does your friend stay with them?

 

Your friend stays with them because it feels comfortable. It feels familiar. It isn’t good, but it feels predictable. Humans will choose bad and consistent over healthy and different if they are unaware or unconscious.

 

Denial can be powerful.

 

 

 

We’ll talk more in the second half of the book on how to integrate these parts of ourselves that are in our shadow. Beginning to integrate and restore this energy to ourselves is a big part of feeling better, stronger, and having better relationships.

For now, however, we just wanted to outline how the process of developing denial works. Through this process we learn how to focus on things about ourselves and others that are consistent with what we accept and like. We learn to deny, or push out of awareness, the things about ourselves that threaten us and cause anxiety.

 

Cultural Denial

 

Denial also happens on a societal level. We call this Cultural Denial

 

This habit of denial that we all individually develop also impacts how we operate as a culture. We collude – we agree on an unconscious and unspoken level – to deny things about our society that we do not like or find threatening. For example, we tend to be in collective denial about the prevalence of sexual assault and abuse. Fortunately, we are now in an age (thanks to the Internet!) where our collective denial seems to be breaking down much more rapidly. It is going to be a process and it’ll take a while, but I have no doubt that the pace of denial breaking down will continually quicken. The trends are obvious for anyone to see. This is a very good thing.

 

One big factor that keeps our denial in place is our belief in heroes. We want to believe that there are really smart people that are on top of things, in control, and are going to help us. This, too, has its roots in childhood. Remember back when you thought your dad was extremely strong? This idealization of our parents helps us feel safe. It makes the world less scary. Belief in our parents’ goodness, omniscience, and strength helps us feel secure. Then, as we grow up, and hopefully earlier rather than later in life, we begin to understand that our parents are fallible. They are not superhuman. They make mistakes and poor decisions; they can be quirky, and stubborn. They become de-idealized. This process of beginning to see your parents as fellow humans is a great milestone in life. It helps you mature. It enables you to begin to assume more responsibility for your life.

 

For some of us, however, this need to believe in superhumans continues. We desperately want to believe that the president, other government leaders, the federal reserve, scientists, and others are superhuman. We want to believe that they are on top of things, fully aware, and can easily solve our problems. We want to believe that they have their hands on the controls and all will ultimately be well. Unfortunately, just like with our parents, we need to realize that these folks are all human too. They are just like you and me. They are working ridiculously hard to keep us on course, but, they too, have the same limitations that we all have.

 

In order to deal with what is happening in our world, we are going to need to assume responsibility on a societal level as well. We will need to work together to solve our challenges. There are very smart people that can help and lead us, but, ultimately, we all have a role to play. The problems we face as a society, as a world, are not going to be resolved by a few thousand smart people at the UN. They are going to be solved by all of us.

 

Facing the issues that we are personally and culturally in denial of is difficult. This process is made even more challenging because we are increasingly distracted. Distraction maintains and increases our denial. In the next chapter, we’ll talk about how distraction works so we can then get on with the good work of trying to make our lives, and this world, better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 3

Distractions

 

As we’ve been discussing, personal and cultural denial keep us from facing our challenges head on. Distraction is one of the most powerful processes that supports this denial.

 

Our tendency to become distracted has been with us since the dawn of time. When those feelings that we do not like experiencing, because they cause us anxiety, discomfort or emotional pain, make their way to the surface, distraction provides us with an escape.

 

Ancient distractions like drugs, alcohol, sex, and gambling are still with us. In the past, as now, these distractions become problematic when the person relies on them too much or when they start negatively impacting their lives and the lives of those around them. These age-old distractions have always been able to ensnare the vulnerable. While the impact of these distractions can be devastating for the individual and their loved ones, their impact has actually been somewhat limited in that they do not have mass appeal.

 

Now, however, that is no longer the case. Things have changed.

 

Distraction Systems

 

We find ourselves in a new age. There are now distraction systems in place that are much more pervasive, effective, and addictive. In this chapter, we’ll talk about these newer weapons of mass distraction as well as older distraction systems that have been tweaked to be more effective.

 

Let’s start with food as it is something we can all identify with and it also happens to be a good metaphor to explain how these newer distraction systems have evolved.

 

Food

 

Look back at family pictures of your parents or grandparents. Notice how thin everyone looked? There were very few obese people back then. Today, over 30% of the people on this planet are obese. Something changed. You know what it was? Food became a drug; a drug that for many of us is very hard to resist.

 

We have always had a weakness for food. Take cheesecake for example. We all naturally really like cheesecake as it contains ingredients that were rare and deeply satisfying to our ancestors. As a result, we are hardwired to love it. We don’t decide to love cheesecake. We just do!

 

Food companies know this and now they have it down to a science. Know why you cannot eat just one chip? Because they have tested 37 different flavors of that one chip on thousands of people. In study after study they found that there was 1 of those 37 chips that was incredibly good at getting people to eat another chip. Let’s call that chip, chip #32. Guess what chip they mass produce? That’s right, chip #32 was the winning candidate. It now fills every bag for that brand. It is very much by design that you find yourself opening and then eating every single chip in a bag. You can learn more about this process here.

 

This food is not natural food. It is created in a lab. It is designed to hit certain taste buds and light up parts of your brain while, at the same time, leaving you with as little nourishment as possible.

 

Why?

 

Because that is how they make more money. They need to get you hooked on those chips, candies, or beverages because they need to make more and more money. The more you consume, the more money they make. The tragic thing is that these companies run out of “stomach share” so the only solution is to grow each stomach to consume more of their products.

 

Understanding how food companies have hacked our food provides a good framework for better understanding other distraction systems. Living in a meaningful manner is like eating a healthy diet. It is rich and satisfying. It involves facing problems directly. Distraction systems do not want you to live in this soulful way. If you do, then you become dramatically less interested in what they offer. Like the food companies, they need to keep you hooked on vacuous bites of information. They know what your mind craves and they give it to you in better and better packaging. These soulless bits of information are the equivalent of empty calories. These systems leave you wanting more and more because that is what they are designed to do.

 

Online Distractions

 

We are now living in a world that is incredibly distracting. Our brains were not designed to handle this kind of machinery. Think back to 10 to 15 years ago. The primary things to distract us were television, magazines, and video games. At the time, many of us thought that these things were pretty good and entertaining. Now they seem quaint. Remember when you had to watch a show at a certain time? Remember when everyone had to watch the same show? Now we have on-demand television with thousands of channels. You can watch any movie you want, at anytime, anywhere. Amazing!

Social Media

The Internet was really just starting to catch steam back then. Smart phones were not yet a thing. Social media sites like MySpace and Facebook lacked the levels of sophistication social networks now possess. Marry the deep data analysis that sites have with a smartphone that routinely sends you push notifications and you have the equivalent of cheesecake for the mind. It is nearly impossible to resist.

 

 

How do these online distraction systems work?

 

They start with an external trigger or notification. You may visit a Website or sign up for a service. They will then send you an email, follow you on the Internet with ads, or send you a push notification with very specific language that has been tested to get you to click on it. You click on the link and your attachment or connection to that distraction system gets a little bit stronger. You, unintentionally, provide that system with more information when you read an article, add a friend, or comment on a photo. Without realizing it, and behind the scenes, the machinery of distraction is starting to turn. On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being completely attached, you are a 2 at this point.

 

These companies know that you don’t really care about the company itself, but you do care about your friends, family, and co-workers. They leverage these relationships by showing your profile to these contacts. These people are then asked to add you as a contact, friend, or to comment on your photo. Guess what this does? It brings you back to the site and increases the attachment. Think about this just for a second. If a company wants me to come back to their site, then they have a much higher chance of getting me back if they tell me my nephew added me as a friend, or posted a new pic. I care about my nephew. I don’t care about the company. This happens a few times and the attachment goes from a 2 to a 5.

 

Soon, you have more and more connections on the site. Many of these sites have a magic number. Once you cross that threshold they know they really have you. Let’s say it is 10 connections. Once you have 10 connections they know with a level of statistical certainty that they can get you coming back to the site several times a week. Your attachment then goes from a 5 to a 7.

 

All this time they are still pinging you via email, ads or push notifications to get you back to the site. The prompts or triggers to get you back are all external. You may be experiencing uncomfortable emotions like anxiety, sadness, or boredom, but you are not yet feeling these as triggers to go to the site and escape these feelings. Instead, what happens gradually, is that the trigger moves from being external like an email prompt and moves internal. Soon, they do not have to remind you or leverage your relationships to go back to the site. You are now doing it on your own. You are checking it regularly on your own. Your attachment has moved from a 7 to an 8.

 

They’ve got you now, but they don’t completely have you. The tendrils are not yet deep into your brain and that is really where they want to go. They want to get as wrapped around your brain as possible, because the deeper they are – the more unconscious this behavior of checking the site – the more time you spend on the site and the more money they make. When you start living your life, not for what you are actually experiencing at the moment, but instead for how you imagine it will look to other people on these sites, then they really have you. When the experience itself is less meaningful than the image of you on the site and the number of likes it gets, then they are getting really deep. They have moved the center of your self from your actual life and transferred it to the perception of your life on their site. You now mostly live for reactions from other people on these company’s sites. By this time, you are likely refreshing the page, habitually looking at your phone, and wondering why your pic or video has not received more comments or likes. By this time you are fully hooked, as my good friend Nir Eyal would say, and your attachment has gone from an 8 to a full 10. They’ve got you hook, line, and sinker.

 

Scary stuff right? Let’s unpack it a little bit more.

 

You experience a negative emotion, it is uncomfortable, you check a site/app to distract yourself, and then you temporarily feel better. Rinse and repeat.

 

This is what the process looks like. First, we have negative emotions (internal or external triggers), then we check the app/site (behavior), then we feel temporary reprieve from that negative feeling (relief).

 

 

 

These companies employ geniuses to fine-tune this process to your particular brain. This is the reason you keep checking these sites hundreds of times a day. This is why teenagers are glued to their phones. None of this is an accident. It was designed this way. The same way that food companies have designed addicting foods and, earlier, cigarette companies designed cigarettes. They are not adding an external chemical via food or a smoke; instead, they are triggering a native chemical reaction – dopamine – in your brain to get a very similar effect.

 

Mind-blowing right? Nuts right?

 

You should be freaking out right now. You know what will likely happen though? You’ll cut back on these sites for a little while, maybe a day or two, and then you’ll be right back to using them at the same level you were prior to reading this chapter. They are extraordinarily addictive. They are very good at what they do.

 

Now, just to be a bit more nuanced about this, there are some sites that use this functionality for good. They might help you get in better shape, track your productivity, manage your finances, or take care of your emotional health (our 7 Cups app does the latter). The best way to assess if something is good or bad for you is to check how you feel at the end of using it. If you feel icky, bad, or empty, then it is likely not that great for you. If you feel good, lifted up, or better, then it is likely good for you. You know you, so just pay attention and make an informed judgement.

 

[Celebrity News Sites
__]

Beyond socal media, celebrity news sites are also incredibly good at this. Hundreds of millions of people click on People or similar sites to learn more about celebrities. My wife (Nicole, the co-author of this book) was pulled into this addiction. Without realizing it, she would be checking in on all of these people regularly. They are presented to you like they are your close contacts, like neighbors next door. You drop in and see that they are “just like us” as you look at images of them having coffee or going grocery shopping. In normal conversation, she’d update me on the latest news on how a celebrity power couple has adopted a new baby, or are in the middle of a divorce, or had an affair with the nanny. We started joking that they were her “friends.” There is some truth to this joke. Your brain cannot tell the difference what you imagine and reality, so these folks actually feel like friends and close contacts.

 

Like the food companies that add addictive chemicals to our food and like social media that hijacks the dopamine engine in our brains, celebrity news sites also take advantage of our natural vulnerabilities. We, as a species, are keenly aware of the leaders or royalty that surround us. There has been some pretty interesting research done on primates where the scientists will track the number of times a Gorilla or similar ape looks at the alpha or female leader of a group of apes. The normal apes will look to these apes hundreds of times a day. They do not choose to do this. They just do it. This same process happens with us. The celebrities or politicians are kind of like the most powerful apes.

 

Many people are less interested in celebrities in Hollywood, and more interested in sports or politics or “news.” The very same dynamics that I just outlined with celebrities happen in these mediums as well.

 

 

 

Video games can also be massively distracting. They are fun and engaging. My kids and I have spent hours playing Raymond Origins and had an absolute blast.

 

These games are addictive because they leverage a psychological process called self-efficacy. We all like to be good at something. When we are good at something we feel better about ourselves. This process gets stronger when the thing we are trying to master is slightly challenging. When it is too easy, we lose interest. If it is too hard, then we get frustrated and stop playing. Instead, what the game designers do is make it just hard enough to keep us interested.

Real life isn’t so clear cut. Many things are too easy or too challenging. If you struggle with “real life” then a video game can be a sort of haven from the challenges of the real world. Having a hard time getting a girlfriend? No problem, you are a great warrior on level 5 of the latest adventure game.

 

Video games that add a social component can be even more addictive. Think of Farmville or League of Legends. The video game itself is already addicting, but when your friends are asking you to do things for them, then it becomes that much more addicting.

The last online addiction to think about is pornography. Porn was once hard to get. You had to buy an actual, physical magazine. Porn is now ubiquitous and is often on the leading edge of technology. The use of porn has increased dramatically over the years and is predicted to keep its march moving forward. We are not interested in making a moral argument as to whether or not porn is a good thing. Rather, we just want to highlight that the addictive mechanisms are the exact same as the above distraction systems, except that they are much more powerful because they also involve a euphoric release in the form of ejaculation or orgasm. These biological processes release lots and lots of happy chemicals in the brain making porn a particularly potent form of distraction.

Offline Distractions

 

In addition to online distractions, there is another set of distractions that have been with humanity for thousands of years. The power, property and prestige systems have been in place since the agricultural revolution. However, our current era has seen these systems intensify to a distressing degree.

 

The common denominator that all of these offline distractions have is that they are external systems, with incentives, that are designed to keep you engaged and your self-worth dependent upon your performance in these systems. In the past, these systems were not as nuanced, effective and as culturally embedded as they are now.

 

School

 

Let’s start with school. What is school about? School is about grades. Get good grades, so you can get into a good college. Go to a good college, so you can get a good job. In the offline world, grades is where it all begins.

 

Academics and related activities now mean more to kids and their parents than they ever have before. We have four children and we allow them one extracurricular activity per season. Our kids have many friends that do something every night of the week. All of this is the consequence of the arms-race college admissions system. It is now no longer amazing to just get a 4.0. Now you need to get a 4.3, patent a software system and feed orphans in your spare time. And their identity is entirely tied to their performance. This is not hyperbole; kids in highschool and college are committing suicide at alarming rates because they are unable to meet these high expectations.

 

I didn’t grow up in the most academic environment. I had other things to worry about other than grades, so I wasn’t too caught up in this particular system. It may have ended up being one of the things that saved me.

 

One thing that is interesting about grades is that they are not a great predictor of success in life. We know, on average, that B students actually end up being more successful than A students. A students tend to be great rule followers. B students tend to take grades a bit less seriously. The thing about grades – much like our video game discussion earlier – is that they create an easy to follow path. You can read the syllabus or master the content and, if you work hard enough, increase your chances of getting a good grade. All of this can be good. I liked to get good grades (once I actually got my academic brain turned on) and I want my kids to get good grades as well, but, ultimately, grades should not be taken too seriously.

 

There is a famous W.B Yeats quote that says, “education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” You want school to be about learning, about understanding and mapping the world, so you can move around it and work with others on it. You do not want it to be a compulsive process where you meet certain requirements to get a letter grade that has little to do with leading a successful life.

 

Employment

 

Once you get through the school system, you join the employment system. The token economy here is a little bit better than the school system. Instead of getting rewarded with letter grades, you now get rewarded with money. Real money you can spend to buy things.

 

The goal here is normally to climb the ladder or get promoted. Typically, there is an external system that is creating the mileposts that tell you whether or not you are doing a good job. These markers are not tied into whether or not you are growing as a person. Instead, the incentives and benchmarks are there to increase the overall performance of the company.

 

Fortunately, there are many companies that are getting smarter about this. Google has led the way. They realize that intrinsic motivation comes down to work that allows you have a sense of purpose and impact. We also work hard to do this at 7 Cups. My goal is to align each person’s goals with the goals of the company.

 

By and large though, this is the exception rather than the rule. You can work very hard in your life, get promoted, make the company a lot of money and, in the end, not grow as a person or reach the goals you want to personally achieve. Like grades, getting promoted can be a good thing. It should be taken seriously, but not too seriously.

 

Wealth

 

Closely related to getting promoted is the distraction of making ever increasing amounts of money. I understand that for many folks just making enough money to survive or have a decent quality of life is a concern. For those of you in this situation, please ignore these next couple of paragraphs. For those of you that are making a decent amount of money or even a lot of money, try to be aware of how you think and feel about money. Money can be a terrible task master. You can find yourself stacking up piles and piles of money with no real benefit in your life. In fact, many times it just brings additional pain.

 

The research on this is pretty clear. We all have a happiness set point or place where we are likely to settle regardless of what happens in our life. Many think that if they win the lottery, get a better job, find a better spouse, or graduate that they’ll be MUCH happier. The truth is that you won’t be. You’ll pretty much settle right back to the same level of happiness you were at before you achieved that last thing you really wanted.

 

Think about this in your own life for a second. How long did the happiness from the new outfit, car, or promotion last? They call this the hedonic treadmill for a reason (Hedonic from hedonism; meaning living primarily for pleasure). You have to keep getting more and more to keep that happiness drip working, because once one thing is realized, the effect quickly fades. They even have this down to an annual salary. Happiness goes up significantly once you make $75,000 a year, then it plateaus and only slightly increases (Kahneman and Deaton, 2010). Unfortunately, by the time someone is making 75k annually, they’ve been playing the game for so long that it is very hard for them to stop playing the game. There is a fascinating piece in the NY Times that outlines this process for the very wealthy. You can read it here. Money may in fact be the greatest addiction and distraction system known to humankind.

 

 

 

Accomplishments

 

One last distraction: accomplishments. Some of you smarter folks reading this may have already realized the game of grades, corporate ladder climbing, and money. You may be an independent thinker that is focused on accomplishments. I applaud you. However, a warning, just like with the above distractions, be careful not to get addicted to accomplishments. You do not want to achieve things just for the sake of accomplishing them. It can be easy to think about getting that next notch on your belt, scaling that next mountain, or publishing that next book. You want to make sure that you are focusing on these things because they are meaningful and important. These are also powerful distractions that can keep you in denial.

 

This is not your fault.

 

Do not blame yourself for being distracted. These folks are paying very smart people lots of money to keep you distracted. They have your phone, family members, and friendships to leverage. They also have scientists pouring over reams of data to find more and more ways to keep you plugged in. Even the monks among us have trouble resisting this distraction cocktail. Still, despite it not being your fault that you have fallen into these distraction systems, the question now becomes:

 

Do You Want to Get Out?

Here are some questions you can answer to give yourself more insight. Please answer honestly and track yourself for a couple of days if you think you might be lying to yourself.

 

 

It is perfectly okay to work hard (i.e., have an answer of 7 or greater on number 4), if you are working consistently with your overall goals and direction in life.

 

What do all of these distractions have in common?

 

We engage in them in a mindless manner. We spend more time and invest more of our life in them, then we should. Many of them take more from us than they give. They operate a bit like a mental maze where you can get stuck and have a hard time getting out. Before we know it, we start liking the maze and we forget about our real lives, who we are, and our own unique sense of purpose.

 

Facing our problems and removingourselves from these distraction systems can happen. We are not destined to live a zombie-like life for our remaining years. The first step is to begin to be honest about the problems you face. Let’s turn our attention there now.

 

 

Chapter 4

Problems

We’ve been talking quite a bit about denial and distraction. We discussed how denial develops in early childhood. How we begin to wall off the parts of ourselves that are deemed unacceptable by others. These early patterns get set and we find other people to reinforce them throughout our lives. We can stay in unhelpful relationships, workplaces, and environments, even if they are bad, in order to keep a sense of consistency and predictability in life.

These early patterns teach us to avoid painful or threatening thoughts and feelings. They help set the stage for us to engage in cultural denial about broader problems we face in society. We collectively tell ourselves that things are not as bad as they really are, because to be honest about the challenges we face would make us uncomfortable.

Denial, on both individual and societal levels, is increased by what we call distraction systems. These systems can be online or offline. They sink into your brain and capture ever increasing amounts of your time and resources. They are designed by very smart people to make them money and to keep you in denial and distracted.

How do you break free?

You are not going to like the answer. The only way – as far as we can tell – is to face your problems and learn to truly care for other people. I realize this isn’t a sexy, fun, or easy answer. It is nothing like the distractions outlined above. It involves emotional pain and struggle. It will take some work on your part, and it’ll be challenging, but the benefits are remarkable. You will actually get to live a real, meaningful, life and make the world a better place.

Before we begin, let’s start with the idea of framing. Framing is a concept that refers to how an idea is positioned or “framed”. Think of the way you frame a picture. It impacts the way it looks. Our biology and education have framed problems in an inaccurate and bad way. Problems suffer from negative branding.

What if problems were secretly very good?

 

What if every problem contained a gold nugget inside?

 

What if solving problems made you a much better person?

Wait…What?

Yes, you heard us right. Problems have disguised value. They are actually very helpful and should be treasured. We struggle to see problems as valuable because we are too busy trying to avoid or ignore them.

How are problems valuable?

An analogy can help here. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), they have a metaphor of Aunt Maggie. Aunt Maggie is the annoying, loud, and obnoxious Aunt, who is secretly very wise. Nobody likes her and everybody tries to ignore her. What do you do when your Aunt Maggie comes to your house? Do you turn the lights off, pull the curtains shut, and act like you are not home? Do you run into the backroom and ignore her knocking at the door?

Or, are you the nicer person that opens the door, welcomes her in, but subtly tries to get her out after 30-45 minutes? You don’t want to be mean, but you have things to do. You listen to her, but also hint pretty strongly that it is time for her to go.

You might be a more enlightened person. Maybe you open the door, invite her in, make a cup of tea, feed her some cookies, sink into your chair, and deeply listen to what she says. If you are this kind of person, then you are very rare, because nobody willingly engages with Aunt Maggie in this way. She really is annoying. However, the insightful souls that do take the time to spend with her are blessed with a special gift for enduring the conversation. At the end, she opens your hand and gives you a special gift. It might be a kernel of truth, it could be the discovery of a strength or talent, maybe an insight, tip, or new way of seeing things. By the end of the conversation, you are exhausted. You are drained, but you are also enlightened. She managed to give you tailored feedback that is very relevant to the issue you are facing.

 

She. Is. Just. That. Good.

Aunt Maggie is, of course, a metaphor for the problems we encounter in life. We like to hide in the back room when problems come knocking at our door. We try to avoid the pain by ignoring them. When they are unrelenting, we try to listen for as little time as possible to get back to our life. All of these strategies keep us from the deep lessons that life is trying to teach us.

 

Let me make this less metaphorical and outline specifically how problems help us grow. One, problems break down our denial. Two, they free us from the distraction systems. Three, they teach us to ask for help. Four, they help us level up. Five, they teach us how to authentically care for other people.

Let’s quickly talk through these items.

One, problems break down denial. At some point, the problems become so significant that we can no longer ignore them. In Alcoholics Anonymous they call this hitting bottom. If it weren’t for them overwhelming our ability to avoid them, many of us would stay stuck in a bad situations for the remainder of our lives. Problems force us to change.

Two, problems break you out of distraction systems. They refuse to leave you alone. Like Aunt Maggie, they will hang out on your porch and knock and knock and knock on your door. You may want to watch a movie. Fine. As soon as it is done, they are knocking again. You may want to get lost on a social network, no problem but the problems will continue to knock. You may want to avoid them by working hard all day or focusing on your studies. No problem. When it is time to sleep, they’ll be patiently waiting for you. They will not let your mind rest until you have dealt with them.

Three, and this may be the most important, problems teach you to ask for help. They teach you humility. Most significant problems cannot be solved on your own. They require you to talk to someone. They require you to be vulnerable. We’ll talk much more about this in Chapter 6. For now, however, know that problems teach you that being alone is not an option. We are social creatures and we need one another to get through this life. We are all in this together.

Four, problems help you level up. Yes, this is video game language. I see life kind of like a video game. Problems come bouncing towards you. They pop and open up a puzzle. If you solve the puzzle, then you unlock the key or the next clue you need in life. If you don’t solve the puzzle, then life will keep bouncing the same problem bubble your way. It may look slightly different, but it’ll essentially be the same problem. You’ll need to solve it in order to move forward. Solving problems changes you. It helps you realize that you are stronger than you realized.

 

Five, problems teach you to open up and care, from your heart, for other people. I have found that people who have been through a lot in life tend to be people that provide the most love and support to other people. When you are isolated and not touched by pain, it is easy to keep going with life without paying too much attention to other people. Many people do indeed care, but they are compelled to care on a deeper level once they have faced their own pain and worked through their problems. In an emotional sense, they’ve walked down that path, so they have a visceral understanding of what another person is going through. Now, it is deeply meaningful to be part of the solution in someone else’s life. Problems teach you compassion like nothing else does.

We do not grow as individuals, as a family, or as a society, when things are easy and humming along. We grow when we face and work through our problems. Problems are like little disguised gold nuggets. Nobody likes dealing with problems because they are painful. However, when you do focus on them – open to them, accept them, and solve them – you are rewarded with new insight and growth.

The second half of this book introduces you to the 7 Cups process to face and overcome challenges. Don’t worry, we are going to go nice and slow. This is important and there is no real benefit to rushing the process. We’ll encourage you to take your time and to move at your own pace. You can enter the pool by the stairs. No need to jump right into the deep end. We want you to be able to face your problems directly, but we want to make sure you are in a strong place before starting this process. Let’s start by talking more about our community and why we need your help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part II:

The Antidote: 7 Cups

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 5

Join the Care Revolution

 

The second half of this book helps you break out of denial and distraction. The 7 Cups program will help you begin to reach out to others, solve the problems that are hounding you and become part of a movement that is slowly changing the world. The program has emerged from current research, the helping professions, secular and sacred traditions, and our experience with 7 Cups over the last two and half years. This is the best of everything. This is what works.

 

Our aim is to break down this process of personal growth to help you and millions of others change their lives and make the world a better place. We learned a lot about this process through building the 7 Cups community. Let’s start with the 7 Cups story.

 

The 7 Cups Story

 

Looking back over my life, I can see that the idea for 7 Cups has emerged from my different experiences in non-profit work and also in my role as a psychologist. But it wasn’t until I became a start-up entrepreneur and began to understand how the Internet can be used to make everything we do more immersive, that the final piece of the puzzle fell into place. If we could take everything we knew about how to help people, and put it on the Internet, then help could scale, it could reach everybody, everywhere like never before. But how? I only knew that it had to be very simple and very effective.

 

One night, I was sitting at my kitchen table, drinking tea and talking to my wife about a business problem. It was really challenging. As always, she was empathically listening to me. Her care helped me see the problem in a different light so that I could solve it. It was at that point that the clouds parted, the sun shone through, and I had the insight I had been waiting on.

 

What if, any time you needed it, you could access a person who would listen to you and care about your problem?

 

We talked about this idea for the rest of the night and, 7 cups of tea later…as they say, the rest is history.

 

I was fortunate enough to be invited to be part of the Silicon Valley startup accelerator, YCombinator, and was able to raise the funds as well as get a real crash-course in startup life, which helped me get 7 Cups off the ground.

 

 

 

 

Since then, 7 Cups has grown tremendously. When it was just my wife and I, we were doing 50 conversations a week. Now, we are doing over 130,000. Our team has gone from just me in a small room over my garage to an amazing team of people I admire, respect, and look forward to working with each day. Today we are building a free, global, emotional support system and that is amazing to me. But what is even more amazing is what 7 Cups has taught me, all of the unexpected truths about being human that I have learned, that have deepened my respect for us as a species. I want to share with you what the true magic of 7 Cups is.

 

When we first launched 7 Cups we could never find enough listeners. We always had way too much demand. One of our early listeners suggested that we put up a little blue banner that said, “Did you know that one of the best ways to help yourself is to help somebody else? Consider becoming a listener today.” I balked at this initially. I was in the stodgy psychologist camp and this was outside of the box for me in a big way. Eventually, he won me over. We put up the blue banner and our listener population began to grow dramatically.

 

 

This story is really symbolic of how 7 Cups has evolved in a couple of ways. First, it didn’t take me too long to figure out that all of us are much smarter than any of us. I started actively telling everyone who joined us that 7 Cups is like a great big sphere. You fit somewhere on this sphere. Mark off your territory and figure out how to make that space better. Run experiments, try things, struggle, and fail. See a problem on 7 Cups that bothers you? Then try to solve it. It wasn’t long before we had an extensive leadership system built out and teams to manage all the different components that made the overall ecosystem of 7 Cups flourish.

 

The 100% truth is that 7 Cups is what it is because of our community. No one brilliant person came up with a strategic plan and implemented 7 Cups. Rather, 7 Cups has emerged through trial and a lot of error and a lot of feedback and insight from our devoted community. Out of that messy and sometimes rocky process, this brilliant system has emerged.

 

The second important thing that we learned, the thing that changed the way we view the world and people was that these new members-turned-listeners started telling me that becoming a listener is what really changed their lives. Even while still hurting, they were able to love others in an effective way. And, loving others in turn brought healing to them.

 

It is the community that makes 7 Cups magical. We have gone through our own learning process as we have overcome challenges and had the opportunity to love this community. Many people come to 7 Cups, come because they need help. They don’t have it all together, they sometimes don’t fit into the world as it is right now. Our society doesn’t teach us to respect hurting people. A lot of our society’s help is sometimes given in a not-very-well-veiled sense of contempt. But in this place, at 7 Cups, where hurting people give time, love and respect to other hurting people, a true magic happens. When a person is safe and respected, their unique talents can emerge. Our community is made up of people from every walk of life. All of us together make this place something truly special.

 

What does all of this have to do with you?

 

Well, what we’ve had the privilege to learn is that each person is important, from the highest functioning, most successful, to those who are struggling the most, to the most eccentric. However you would describe yourself…we need you here. We need each and every person plugged in, using their talents, strengths, and unique perspectives to help us grow. Studies have shown that people from all ranges of intelligence perform better than a group of all highly intelligent people. Homogeneity is a real liability in the world we now live in. We need people from all backgrounds and we need them to be their unique and interesting selves. There are a lot of hurting, lonely people in this world, and a lot of people trapped in denial and systems of distraction. It is a real and legitimate crisis. We need your unique perspective, engaged and plugged in, in order to solve it.

 

And we need to solve this problem of how to reach out and engage one another as human beings in order to solve all of the other pressing issues of our time as well.

 

The message I’m sending to you is that you are wearing a t-shirt with an image of Planet Earth on it. It says “Crew Member” on the back. You are important. You matter. People can be jerks. They may have said hateful things to you. They were wrong.

 

We believe you have greatness in you. You may be aware of this greatness, but afraid to believe it. It is time to let go of those old unhelpful fears because we need you to join our team. You have uncommon talents that will help move us all forward.

 

 

 

This process of unlocking the greatness in you is both simple and hard. It is simple in that it consists of facing your problems and caring for other people. It is hard in that there are lots of distractions that are hungry for your attention and want to keep you from personal growth.

 

We have created the 7 Cups Program to support and guide you. Strong, healing relationships with positive people are essential. We all need a strong community. You can find a support network of people on 7cups.com. Some of us have been working this program for quite a while. Others are just starting. It doesn’t matter. When one of us moves forward, we all move forward together.

 

The Program is modeled after the famous 7 Cups of Tea poem, by Lu Tong. The basic idea is that each cup provides a different level of awareness, wellness, and healing. It is a process that you return to regularly, much like sitting down and having a cup of tea with a good friend. Learning to face your problems and care for others is an art and a practice. It will be challenging, but the key is that we will walk with you each step of the way.

 

7 Cups Program

 

Cup 1: Open: Share what is on your heart

Cup 2: Attune Attune to love

Cup 3: Practice: Practice skills to increase calm.

Cup 4: Live: Sleep, exercise and eat well
Cup 5: Accept: Accept what life brings you

Cup 6: Care: Care for others that need support

Cup 7: Commit: Live according to what is important.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6:

 

Cup 1: Open

Share what is on your heart with another caring person.

 

We can’t do this alone.

 

This cup is the first for a reason. It can be daunting to consider changing your life and facing problems in a new way. It can be confusing and it can be scary. We want you to connect to others, to a community that will support you and care about you. Having others in your corner can give you the courage you need to face the challenges in your life.

 

But sharing what is on our heart can make us feel very vulnerable.

 

Why?

 

Sharing means letting someone in. It means opening up and talking with them about something that is troubling you. You are giving the other person power. If the person isn’t trustworthy, then they can hurt you.

 

We don’t start off feeling vulnerable about sharing. The natural state of childhood is one of openness and wonder. But, just like on Ancora, our society doesn’t celebrate open sharing. Vulnerability can make you a target. So, gradually, we get a little bit tougher each year. We grow a thicker skin. We learn to monitor ourselves a tad more. As we described earlier in our discussion about how the shadow is created, we begin to hide more and more of our true selves.

 

Sometimes people can be hurtful without even knowing it. Parents, often unknowingly, can pull away from us when we are young. They may be overwhelmed with the busyness of life and message to us that our feelings are not as important. Kids at school can be rough too, just trying to look tough themselves. It can be a challenge to find safe and secure relationships. We can feel like we are out there all on our own.

 

For all of these reasons and more, we learn that sharing what is on our heart is a scary endeavor, and, maybe, not a good idea.

 

Often times, as adults we continue this trend in the friendships we are part of.

 

A lot of times, we do not use good judgement when it comes to choosing friends and inviting people into our lives. We do not put a lot of deliberate thought into the process, but allow proximity and our own unconscious patterns to rule. But this is something we should think about! Our lives are greatly influenced by the network of relationships we are a part of. Our family members, friends, and co-workers deeply affect the way we view ourselves and the world around us.

 

There are lots of ways of capturing this idea:

 

“No man is an island.”

“You are the average of the 4 people you surround yourself with.”

“Your friends go to jail, you go to jail. Your friends go to Yale, you go to Yale.”

We are social creatures and we understand ourselves through our closest relationships. So, let’s take a few minutes to examine those relationships.

 

 

What you see on that piece of paper is a picture of your peer network. Interesting, right? Give yourself a moment to look at it and just jot down any other thoughts or insights that come to mind when you look at it.

 

Now, consider these questions. How many of those people did you deliberately invite to be in that network? How many have you arbitrarily picked up along the way because you lived near, worked with, or are related to them? Of those that are more arbitrary, if you didn’t live near them, would you still choose them for a friend?

 

Don’t get me wrong, you can find great friends based on random variables like geography or work. If you find a person that you really click with that happens to live next door, fantastic (!), that is great news. If not, then realize that there are plenty of people out there. You really don’t have to settle for the friends you have. There is no rule that says you have to spend a lot of time with a friend just because they want to spend a lot of time with you. And you do not need to spend time with people just because they are related to you.

 

Many of us think long and hard about the person we date or marry. There are entire industries built up around this mate selection process. It is a big deal. Yet, for friends, where these relationships often extend longer than our romantic relationships, we provide almost no forethought.

 

That stops now: you are hereby granted conscious permission to think clearly about and choose who you would like to have as friends.

 

This goes for all of the people in your life, including co-workers and, even, family members. As Harper Lee said, “You can pick your friends, but you sho can’t pick your family.” That is true, but you can choose how much time or how important the people in your family are to you (except, of course, your own young children). I’m not advocating cutting people out of your peer network. I’m just suggesting that you be deliberate about who gets to be a big circle.

 

We can sometimes be in denial about being in a bad relationship (see chapter 2). Much of this happens on an unconscious level. We find ourselves connected to a partner or friends that are not really that great for us. Still, even though we know this on one level, it can be hard to *see* it on another level.

 

Here are some questions to help you assess if a relationship is good for you or not.

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Do you feel drained after spending time with this person?

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Do you feel bad about yourself after spending time with this person?

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Does this person cause messes and drama around them and in your life?

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Do you feel like this person does not believe in you?

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Do you find it hard to say “no” to this person when you know you should?

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Do you feel like you cannot relax or be yourself around this person?

If a person meets any or all of these criteria, then feel free to shrink their there circle. Simply spend less and less time with them until they are no longer draining your life. Your life will get much better.

 

Many kind and giving people can find themselves being taken advantage of. It’s tricky to know where to draw the line when you are being a caring friend to someone who has a lot of needs. The trick is to listen to yourself, to balance the nurture and resources that you are giving, with the nurture and resources that you are receiving. If someone is very needy or particularly draining to you, spend just as much time as in comfortable for you. You can be a help and support for them without having to be the only help and support for them. And when you play just your part in their lives, you leave room for them to grow.

 

Again, nobody is advocating removing these folks from your peer group. The recommendation, instead, it to simply begin to decrease the size of their circles and to increase the distance between your circle and their circles. On the other hand, if someone in your social network leaves you feeling encouraged, challenged or supported, feel free to spend more time with them. Grow their circles and draw closer to them.

 

Give to and nurture the relationships that make you stronger and happier. Let these people know that they are important to you by loving them back!

 

Doing this on paper brings the learning to a new level. Please find your paper again. Mark these people by writing in their names over their circle. Write the word “before” on them. Now, draw new circles that represent them with smaller sizes and at a further distance, or bigger circles, closer to yours. This is where you want to go. As you meet new people, make a habit of checking in with yourself. How does this person make you feel? Do they belong in your social circle?

 

 

Being aware of the person’s weather is one way to find safe and good people for potential friends or a mate. Another way is to gradually get to know them. If dating, ask about past relationships and hear how the person talks about them. Are the problems always the other person’s fault? Just be deeply curious about their lives. Learn all that you can about them. Then, take a step back and look to see if there are negative patterns. The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. The stronger the pattern, the more likely it’ll manifest and impact your relationship. If you are not interested in having that experience, then simply shrink the circle. No harm, no foul.

 

This is a process. You do not want to rush it. But you will be surprised how much more peaceful your life can be when you are careful about who is close to you. And when you are in charge of how much energy a person is allowed to take from you, you will have the energy you need to change your life and reach your goals.

 

 

 

 

Now that you are aware of your current social system, how do you start opening up to others who are safe and caring?

 

Unfortunately, not all of us have trustworthy people that live or work near us. Good, safe, and caring people can be hard to find. This is one reason that loneliness has tripled since 1984 (Cacioppo, 2013). Kind and caring people create more kind and caring people. If the population of these folks is decreasing, then, unfortunately, we’ll see and less and less of these sorts of relationships increasing.

 

We created 7 Cups to help solve this problem. We have just started, but already we’ve created a positive upward spiral that will help to reverse this trend. The critical first part was to create a reliable way to find safe, trustworthy and compassionate people. This, to me, is the definition of an active listener on 7 Cups. Many of these folks, just like mental health professionals, are wounded healers. They’ve faced their own challenges, come through the other side, and are now giving back.

 

A second, but perhaps just as important, part to increasing openness in our lives is reducing our fear of being judged. This is sometimes referred to as stigma. At any given time, 30-40% of us are struggling. Think of the last 10 people you met. 3 or 4 of them are going through a hard time right now. It would be really hard to tell which 3 or 4 needed help, because many of us do not feel safe being vulnerable. We keep up a front, because we are rightfully afraid of being judged. 7 Cups is an anonymous system for just this reason. It is a safe and completely private place to practice sharing openly with a caring person.

 

 

You will know that you’ve found a good listener because of how you feel when you talk to them. If you feel understood, validated, encouraged and strengthened by them, then you have just been loved. It can feel a little scary the first time. Leaning on others and asking for help is a skill just like any other skill. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Before you know it, it’ll feel quite natural opening up to another person. And, you know what? You’ll feel a world better.

We can see this in kids, but we struggle to realize that it holds true for adults as well. There is a field of study in psychology called attachment theory. It focuses on how people bond with one another, particularly on how young children connect to their caregivers. Kids, especially when they are little, need to be held a lot. Once they get a bit older they can move away for a little while and start to play on their own. Then, after a short time, they circle back to be picked up again. This is because each child has an emotional gas tank. The tank gets low with too much distance or time away from the parent. When the child comes back, sits on a caregiver’s lap, reads a book, or sings a song, then the tank gets filled back up. At that point the child can go out and explore again.

 

Many parents make the mistake of trying to push their kids. They withhold love or care, because they mistakenly believe that pushing their kid forward is going to help them grow or master skills more readily. This is flat wrong. If you want your kid to grow and excel, then love them. Make sure that gas tank is filled up. When it is full, they have fuel to explore. If you push them away, or put too high of expectations on them, then you drain the tank and limit their ability to grow.

 

All of this applies to adults as well. Our tanks get low too. We don’t sit on the floor and cry to get someone to pick us up and pay attention to us. No, instead, we pick up the phone and share how we are going through a hard time. We lean on someone for support. What are we doing? We are connecting with someone we trust, and getting our tank filled back up. It is the equivalent of the 3 year old raising his hands and asking for a hug. Kids and adults need to be filled up. There is absolutely no shame in that. It is how we are wired.

 

 

There are lots of things that drain our tanks more quickly. Being sick drains the tank. Loud noises drain the tank. Stress drains the tank. There is a lot of work to do and we need to know that there are safe people in our lives who will support us and fill us up when we are down. With these people around us, we are able to take on any challenge life has to offer. And our victories become their victories.

 

In summary, Cup 1 is about sharing what is on your heart with a trusted person. It involves opening up, being vulnerable, and learning to lean on people for support. Understanding your peer network is important because it influences how you feel on a daily basis. You want to be mindful of who you let into your peer network and also be deliberate about shrinking the circles of those who are unhelpful.

 

We understand that finding safe people can be challenging. We built 7 Cups so kind people could find one another much more readily. We know that fear of judgment keeps us from getting support. Anonymity protects us and enables us to open up and share things we feel embarrassed about. We all have challenges. We all struggle. None of us is alone. Lastly, please know that we all need regular support. Each of us has a gas tank that gets low from the challenges we face. Cup 1 is all about learning to let someone fill up your tank. When your cup gets full you are in a much better position to help fill someone else up.

 

 

Chapter 7:

 

Cup 2: Attune

Attune to Love

 

Kindness, compassion, warmth, peace, empathy, patience, and generosity. The feeling of being seen, understood, and valued. A big hug. Self-sacrifice. Your favorite comfortable sweater. Kind eyes. A warm smile.

 

All of these represent love.

 

I wonder if you can remember your strongest experience of love. Take a minutes and go back to that point in your mind and remember what it felt like to be in that relationship, in those moments. Warm? Life-changing? What did that feel like for you?

 

Here is another example of love. Take a few moments to watch this short video, even if you have seen it before.

 

https://youtu.be/cZGghmwUcbQ

 

Like the person recalled, or the young man on this video, many of us have tapped into love and gone the extra mile to care for someone else. It fills you with warmth like nothing else.

 

Love is unique in that it is revitalizing to both the giver and receiver.

 

An Early Experience

 

My family went through many challenges when I was growing up. My parents tried, but had a number of limitations. We were not a family that valued education and we lived in a rural area so there were not a lot of pathways out. This was pre-Internet. I worked very hard to address some of these challenges, but there was scant access to expert help or information.

 

I turned to religion to get help. My sister started going to a youth group in Leominster, MA. Leominster felt like a BIG city even though it only had a population of 40,000 people. There was a youth pastor there name Pastor John. We called him PJ. For one of the first times in my life, I had someone believe in me. He didn’t do anything that required significant effort. He greeted me with a smile, noticed me, and asked me questions. One summer he wrote me a letter telling me that he had confidence in me and knew that I was going to do well. Nobody had ever really cared for me like that before. No one had helped me see that I had a deep goodness in me. To PJ, there was never even a question. It was clearly evident to him. His confidence gave me the courage to believe in myself.

 

PJ opened a door for me. Like the guy in the video did for that little girl. He saw value that other people did not see. He knew that love was not just an abstract idea, but was also real, immediate, and powerful. PJ knew that love changed things.

 

Love

 

People have been thinking about love for thousands of years. The Greeks and ancient religions categorized different types of love. For our purposes, we are focusing on love as a virtue. A virtue is a positive trait or quality that helps us achieve individual and collective greatness. The virtue of love is expressed as compassion, kindness, and affection.

 

The Chinese character for love illustrates this well. From Wikipedia:

“Ai,” the traditional Chinese character for love (愛) consists of a heart (心, middle) inside of “accept,” “feel,” or “perceive,” (受) which shows a graceful emotion. It can also be interpreted as a hand offering one’s heart to another hand.

 

Love occurs in real life and also has a biochemical impact on the brain. When we think of things that impact the brain, we normally think of drugs. Love makes legal and illegal drugs look impotent. Drugs simply can’t compete with love.

Drugs are normally valued by how much of an impact they have, how long they last, and their side effects. Think of alcohol for a second. Alcohol boosts your mood, helps you relax, and can help you feel more confident. The effect lasts for a few hours. Then, the effects gradually wear off. The next day you experience the side effects in the form of a hangover. Not awesome, but, still very popular.

 

Let’s contrast this with love. Love has a WAY bigger impact. It makes you feel good, fills you with warmth, and helps you open to life. It also helps you overcome challenges you are facing. It doesn’t stay in your system for a few hours; it stays activated for weeks, months, and sometimes years. There are no negative side effects! No love hangover. Love only brings benefits. Drugs tend to mask pain, love heals. It’s effects, big or small, are life long.

 

 

 

If drug companies could make a love pill, believe me they would. It’d be a blockbuster.

It isn’t just drugs that can’t hold a candle to the experience of love. I don’t know of anything in life that can compete with love. The Beatles said it well: “All you need is love.” Love is unparalleled by any other experience, object, or drug.

 

Imagine if we had a way to increase the amount of love we experience in our lives, societies, and world. Think about that goodness you felt when you remembered that person that loved you or watched the above video. What if you could increase that feeling in your daily life by 5-10%? How would that impact how you feel about yourself and others?

 

Now, imagine if everybody in your country tapped into love and increased it in their lives by 5-10%. Can you imagine what a difference that would make in your country?

 

This can sound very pie in the sky. However, it is much more pragmatic and way easier than many of the big changes our governments attempt to make. We are not talking about overhauling a social system or even passing a new law. No, we are talking about very small changes. Simply noticing when someone is kind to you. Deliberately being a little extra kind to someone else. These small changes, across all of us, would have enormous positive effects that we cannot even begin to imagine.

 

This is not news to us though. We know this. We’ve experienced love and we’ve seen its impact on others. We watch it in movies all the time. We sing and talk about it. We can’t get enough of it. Why, then, do we not have more of it in our lives? Why does it seem so elusive?

The idea of love is very popular. We hold it up as the ideal. We call this conceptual love. It happens out there. We talk about it or read about it, but the words do not leap off of the page and grab us. Conceptual love is common and tends to overshadow the more rare experience of love or what we call experiential love.

 

The movie you watched at the start of this chapter triggered experiential love in you. It feels real, immediate, and personal. That short clip fills you up with a warm sense of goodness. It is the same feeling you have when someone gives you a big hug. Experiential love is not something you can read about. It is something you have to connect with and feel.

 

As a society, we’ve done a good job of spreading conceptual love around the world. Most people understand it. We’ve done less well at spreading experiential love around the world.

 

Experiential love is big like the sun. It is all around us. It warms us, feels great, and is a renewable resource. We are just now figuring out how to tap the sun via solar panels to convert it into electricity. I suspect we are in a similar place with love. We know it is real. We know it could have a huge impact. We just need to figure out how to tap into it.

 

The Rabbi’s Gift, from Scott Peck’s Book The Different Drum, is a nice story that illustrates the emergent power of love.

 

The story concerns a monastery that had fallen upon hard times. Once a great order, as a result of waves of antimonastic persecution in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the rise of secularism in the nineteenth, all its branch houses were lost and it had become decimated to the extent that there were only five monks left in the decaying mother house: the abbot and four others, all over seventy in age. Clearly it was a dying order.

 

In the deep woods surrounding the monastery there was a little hut that a rabbi from a nearby town occasionally used for a hermitage. Through their many years of prayer and contemplation the old monks had become a bit psychic, so they could always sense when the rabbi was in his hermitage. “The rabbi is in the woods, the rabbi is in the woods again “ they would whisper to each other. As he agonized over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to the abbot at one such time to visit the hermitage and ask the rabbi if by some possible chance he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.

 

The rabbi welcomed the abbot at his hut. But when the abbot explained the purpose of his visit, the rabbi could only commiserate with him. “I know how it is,” he exclaimed. “The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore.” So the old abbot and the old rabbi wept together. Then they read parts of the Torah and quietly spoke of deep things. The time came when the abbot had to leave. They embraced each other. “It has been a wonderful thing that we should meet after all these years, “the abbot said, “but I have still failed in my purpose for coming here. Is there nothing you can tell me, no piece of advice you can give me that would help me save my dying order?”

 

“No, I am sorry,” the rabbi responded. “I have no advice to give. The only thing I can tell you is that the Messiah is one of you.”

 

When the abbot returned to the monastery his fellow monks gathered around him to ask, "Well what did the rabbi say?" "He couldn't help," the abbot answered. "We just wept and read the Torah together. The only thing he did say, just as I was leaving --it was something cryptic-- was that the Messiah is one of us. I don't know what he meant."

 

In the days and weeks and months that followed, the old monks pondered this and wondered whether there was any possible significance to the rabbi’s words. The Messiah is one of us? Could he possibly have meant one of us monks here at the monastery? If that’s the case, which one? Do you suppose he meant the abbot? Yes, if he meant anyone, he probably meant Father Abbot. He has been our leader for more than a generation. On the other hand, he might have meant Brother Thomas. Certainly Brother Thomas is a holy man. Everyone knows that Thomas is a man of light. Certainly he could not have meant Brother Elred! Elred gets crotchety at times. But come to think of it, even though he is a thorn in people’s sides, when you look back on it, Elred is virtually always right. Often very right. Maybe the rabbi did mean Brother Elred. But surely not Brother Phillip. Phillip is so passive, a real nobody. But then, almost mysteriously, he has a gift for somehow always being there when you need him. He just magically appears by your side. Maybe Phillip is the Messiah. Of course the rabbi didn’t mean me. He couldn’t possibly have meant me. I’m just an ordinary person. Yet supposing he did? Suppose I am the Messiah? O God, not me. I couldn’t be that much for You, could I?

 

As they contemplated in this manner, the old monks began to treat each other with extraordinary respect on the off chance that one among them might be the Messiah. And on the off off chance that each monk himself might be the Messiah, they began to treat themselves with extraordinary respect.

 

Because the forest in which it was situated was beautiful, it so happened that people still occasionally came to visit the monastery to picnic on its tiny lawn, to wander along some of its paths, even now and then to go into the dilapidated chapel to meditate. As they did so, without even being conscious of it, they sensed the aura of extraordinary respect that now began to surround the five old monks and seemed to radiate out from them and permeate the atmosphere of the place. There was something strangely attractive, even compelling, about it. Hardly knowing why, they began to come back to the monastery more frequently to picnic, to play, to pray. They began to bring their friends to show them this special place. And their friends brought their friends.

 

Then it happened that some of the younger men who came to visit the monastery started to talk more and more with the old monks. After a while one asked if he could join them. Then another. And another. So within a few years the monastery had once again become a thriving order and, thanks to the rabbi’s gift, a vibrant center of light and spirituality in the realm.

 

Understanding Love

 

Love means different things to different people and that is actually a beautiful thing. Love does not have to be defined and put into a black and white box that we all agree on. No, instead, love can be whatever it is to each of us.

 

This is how it is with many of the best things in life. If you see a photograph you really like, it’ll mean something different to you than it does to me. There will be something about it that speaks to you. It could be the light, it might be the angle, it can be how the different elements come together. It might remind you of something or trigger an old memory. It might be one or all of these things. The key is that it you experience that photograph differently than I do. The image itself is the same, but the way we both make meaning of it causes us to view and experience it differently.

 

The same goes for music. The notes, lyrics, or beats are objectively the same. However, some aspects of it just hit your ear differently. Sometimes a chorus will just grab you. It’ll hit you at a deeper level. That song will stick with you for a while until your brain is done with it and then you’ll let it go. For that time, however, that song means something to you that it doesn’t mean to anybody else.

 

I believe that the same goes for love. Nobody would force us to interpret a photograph in the same way. Similarly, it’d be ludicrous to suggest that we all must agree on the best music or what a particular song should mean. In the same way, I don’t think we have to agree on love.

 

Love can mean whatever it means to each of us. This makes love extraordinarily flexible. It can mean different things to different people. Similarly, we can experience love in a variety of ways during different parts of our lives.

 

This is how it is with many of the best things in life. If you see a photograph you really like, it’ll mean something different to you than it does to me. The image itself is the same, but the way we both make meaning of it causes us to view and experience it differently.

 

Beyond this, I’d also like to suggest that love is ultimately a mystery. It is above what our little brains can completely understand. Love belongs in the category of the indescribable. And, from this vantage point, it’s a little more clear why it is so important to open up and listen to someone else’s experience of love. The love that they have experienced, is available to you also. We can learn about love from each other.

 

 

With all of that said, there are common ways that people point to or attempt to define love. Some people see it as a human process that is best understood as altruism. Other people see love as a higher level of human consciousness that connects us all. Still others view love from a spiritual or religious framework.

 

Some of the common themes across all of these different ways of understanding love include benevolence, compassion, mercy, kindness, validation, encouragement, generosity, and consistency. These words can feel abstract or distant, but understanding what they mean to you can bring them to life.

 

To get a better feeling, try this exercise:

Get another piece of paper and a pen and draw an experience of love. You might draw an image of yourself and another person or moment when you felt deeply loved. You might draw a different experience. Don’t judge your drawing; just try to sink into the feeling of compassion, kindness, and benevolence.

 

Noticing Love

 

However you conceive of love, if you view and experience it as on your side, actively working toward your good and the good of all of us, and able to bring a greater purpose from your pain, you get better faster. Growing and overcoming difficulties is, in large part, about taking risks and facing painful challenges. If you feel that the universe holds a certain amount of safety for you, you are more willing to take those risks. And, if you are looking for love, you are much much more likely to find it!

 

You do not have to force love. It is not something you can make happen. Love is already happening all around you. The first step is simply learning to notice it.

 

We have 144,000 bits of information that hit our brain daily. There are constant pulls and pushes for our attention. Additionally, many of us have well worn thinking patterns that cause us to focus on things that make us worry or seemingly confirm our fears. These patterns can feel automatic or like they happen outside of conscious control. These stressors are real. The good news is that we do have control over our attention and we can choose to focus on more uplifting things.

 

Many of you can remember when you or your family bought a new car. One of the first things you notice is how many people have the same car that you have. It wasn’t that a bunch of people went out and bought the car right before you. No, you just didn’t *see* them before because you were not looking for them. Now that you have the car you notice them.

 

That is often how it is with love. Many of us have lots of love reveals in our life, but we cannot see them because we are not looking for them.

 

 

 

At the end of the day, before going to sleep, quickly write down all the ways love reached out to you. You don’t have to go into detail. Even one word descriptions are fine. You just want to start to notice how love is impacting you in your day to day life.

 

Love is Cup 2 for a reason. You start with Cup 1 (open and share what is on your heart) which bridges you to Cup 2 (attune to love). All of the other cups are connected to and branch off of Cup 2. You can work on a different Cup, but to access another cup you have to pass back through Cup 2. Why?

 

Because love is central.

 

Love is at work in your life. It is patient, kind and compassionate. It works through your relationships and the events that surround you. It does not rush you. Love believes in you. It will strengthen you and help you face challenges each step of the way. Love has your back and your life has a purpose.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 8:

 

Cup 3: Practice

Practice skills to increase calm

So now we know how important and life changing it is to believe that love is all around us. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, it can feel like love is out of reach or hard to notice. It can feel like we are stuck in a sea of negative emotions and can’t find our way out. We might stress more than we want. Sometimes we might feel overly anxious. Other times we might be more easily irritated.

 

We may also feel like we cannot stop worrying about the same thing over and over again. We want to stop, but our minds keep returning to it again and again. You can think of this as a mental loop. Mental loops can focus on unresolved issues from the past or worries about the future.

 

 

 

The problem is that worrying doesn’t work.

 

The reason it doesn’t work is because it doesn’t help us move past the issue or the negative feeling. Our mind is like a hamster on a wheel. We feel like we are making progress, but we are really just running in place.

 

Fortunately, the brain is very flexible. We can train it to help us navigate worry and day to day stressors. As discussed in the distraction chapter, however, this is not something that you can passively do. There are distraction systems in place that do not want you to feel calm, centered, and grounded.

 

The skills needed to increase calm are very simple. They will not take you long to learn at all. We created the 7 Cups app to help make practice even easier. If you download the app, then you’ll be prompted to do one of the below skills each day. When you complete one exercise your emotional teacup goes from half full to 75% full. If you do one more exercise, then your cup becomes completely full. If you miss a day, then the cup drops to 75%. If you miss another, then it drops to 50%. We are optimists, however, so your cup will always at least be half full. You don’t need the app to practice these exercises. It just helps. This is our way of keeping you one step ahead of the downward escalator.

 

These exercises work. I like to think of them as brain hacks. When you regularly practice these exercises, they change the way your brain functions. Take mindfulness for example. It is impossible to be both relaxed and anxious at the same time. When you listen to a mindfulness exercise, your body becomes deeply relaxed. When your body is relaxed it cannot also be anxious. You can actually use mindfulness to manually make yourself calm.

 

A final way of looking at these exercises is to view them like you would a medication. There is a certain dosage that is required to feel an effect. Your doctor would advise you to stick with a new medicine for at least a couple of weeks to see if it is working. You should do the same with these skills. The primary difference is that the skills are free, proven, and safe. The only side effects are increased calm and happiness.

 

Ready to get started?

 

Healthy Coping Skills

 

Many of us already have skills we practice that help us feel better when we are going through a hard time. We have not been taught to see them as skills, but they are skills nonetheless. What’s more is that they are already active and effective in your life, so you do not even have to learn them. You are already doing them. Once you are aware of them, you can just start doing them more deliberately to help yourself feel better.

 

 

Mindfulness

 

Mindfulness or meditation has been around for thousands of years. The mental health world recently discovered it and now we have a mindfulness treatment for just about every psychological issue. The core of what works in mindfulness is the same across all of these treatments. Mindfulness now also has robust research support for decreasing anxiety, depression, and stress. It also has positive benefits in that it increases compassion, empathy, memory, focus, and, believe it or not, our ability to fight off illness.

 

Not too bad for a simple 5-10 minute daily exercise, right?

 

Mindfulness or meditation can sound intimidating. It emerged from Buddhism and has been influenced by other eastern religions. People can read words like “dharma” or see someone sitting in a crossed leg lotus position and feel like mindfulness is too daunting. Let’s be honest, 99% of us don’t know what word “dharma” means and the vast majority of us would be incredibly uncomfortable in the lotus position. The good news is that you do do not have to read Sanskrit or shave your head to practice mindfulness.

 

Mindfulness is actually very simple. It starts with paying attention to your normal breathing. Special or fancy breathing is not necessary. Your regular in and out breathing is the pathway to calm.

 

The suggestion here is that your breath is your real center. We tend to locate our center in our minds. We feel like we exist behind our eyes, because we look out on things from this perspective. Mindfulness, on the other hand, suggests that our breath is our true center- like our breathing knows more about us than we give it credit for. You can imagine moving your center from your head to your diaphragm or belly. What happens? It feels different right? A little less forced and a little more relaxed?

 

One reason focusing on breathing seems so counterintuitive is because we use our minds to solve problems. We see a problem in the outside world, diagnose it, and then start trying to fix it by doing things. An example, your computer starts having challenges, so you turn it off, restart it and it works again. Similarly, when we experience pain in the external world, we often take steps to reduce that pain. If you are cold, then you can put a coat on. If it is raining, you can go inside. If you are in a cramped spot, you can get up and walk around. We can usually resolve problems in the outside world by identifying them and then implementing steps to solve them. (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 2008)

 

Internal problems like negative thoughts and feelings, however, are not solved in the same manner as external problems. Getting rid of pain in the outside world is usually a straightforward process. Getting rid of pain in the inside world is not straightforward. The same mechanisms don’t work.

 

You need a different strategy to work through internal pain.

 

Paradoxically, resolving internal pain is almost the opposite of resolving external pain. If you have a pebble in your shoe, you simply remove the pebble. If you have a pebble in your soul, you have to accept it in order to dissolve it. If you try to pluck it out or push it away, then it just grows in size and eats up more of your energy.

 

Acceptance and commitment therapists call this entanglement. The pushing away of the pain just strengthens its attachment to you. You can imagine pain like a giant beach ball that is following you. You have glue on your fingers and hands. When you try to push the beach ball away, it actually gets stuck to your fingers and hands. The harder you push, the stronger it gets stuck to you.

 

Another metaphor commonly used is quicksand. Freaking out is a great way to further sink into quicksand. Relaxing, leaning back, and gradually moving out through backstroke like motions is the best strategy but is likely the last thing that comes to mind. Freaking out is the natural response. Similarly, when we feel emotional pain, we can often feel frantic to get away from it. Unfortunately, the more we struggle, the more we magnify the emotional pain. (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 2008)

 

The main point is that the struggle to avoid pain is what makes you further entangled in the pain. Paradoxically, opening to the pain is what allows you to move past it. With the beach ball metaphor, if you open to the pain, then the beach ball will simply bounce off of you. It’ll likely come back and bump into you again, but it won’t stick to you if you do not try to avoid it or control it.

 

It is really hard to open to uncomfortable feelings. This is where mindfulness shines. It teaches you how to do this in a step by step manner.

 

Here are the steps:

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Plan to do this for 5 minutes. You can set a timer on your phone or look at a clock (that is okay). As you get better at it you can extend the time. Right now there is no rush.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes. I often just sit in a recliner with my legs up.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Notice your breathing. Remember, you already know how to breathe well. Just notice the natural in and out of your breath.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Return your attention to your breathing when your mind wanders. And your mind will wander. No big deal. Whenever you figure out that your mind is thinking about something else, simply return your attention to your breathing.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Label uncomfortable thoughts or feelings when they come up. Just notice them like you would a cloud passing through the sky. If it is a worry, then just label the thought as worry. If you have an anxious feeling, then just label it as anxiety. One metaphor sometimes used here is the chessboard. Your thoughts and feelings are the chess pieces. You are the chessboard. You observe the thoughts and feelings. You are not the thoughts and feelings.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Keep paying attention to your natural in and out breathing.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. When the time is up, pat yourself on the back, and give yourself some kudos. You did well!

 

 

We realize that this can be challenging. One way to make it much less difficult is to listen to a mindfulness reflection. This makes it easier to stay focused because you are listening to somebody continuously remind you to follow your breathing. These reflections also provide some variation, which can also help your brain stay interested. You can find over 300 mindfulness reflections from dozens of different categories for your use on the 7 Cups app.

 

Gratitude

We talked a little bit about the hedonic treadmill in Chapter 3 – the idea that we always want more and that true satisfaction is hard to come by. We want more money, a better job, more vacation time, or increased recognition. The list is endless.

 

 

We can really torture ourselves with this idea of more. When I was a teenager I waited tables at a greyhound park. In order to get the dogs to run they’d put a rabbit like lure out in front of the dogs. It smelled like a rabbit and squeaked like a rabbit. The greyhounds could not resist it so they would run after it with all of their might. Of course it was always just out of reach.

 

Sounds familiar, right?

 

Many of the things we hunger after are always just out of reach. Of course, to make it worse, sometimes we are successful in getting what we want only to quickly lose interest in it and move onto the next thing. This is a part of our biology. We quickly adapt to the good things we have and reset at our earlier happiness levels. Frustrating indeed.

 

 

One antidote to this endless craving is gratitude. Like mindfulness, this too is simple, free, and proven to get results. Research has shown that gratitude is the single biggest variable in happiness.

 

Remember when I just asked you what you want more of and you made the list? Think for a second though on those items. How hard are they going to be to get? How much money will they cost?

 

Believe it or not, research has proven that gratitude will make you happier than those things. Let me repeat. Gratitude will make you happier than getting or achieving any of the things on that list.

 

The best part? It costs nothing! Zero dollars. A big fat goose egg.

 

The best things in life truly are free.

 

How much would you pay for a pill that you could take 1x a day that would dramatically increase your satisfaction levels? Most people would pay big money for that sort of pill.

 

Gratitude is that “pill” and it is free for the taking. You have an enormous bottle of gratitude pills that you carry with you everywhere you go. You just have to start taking them.

 

The research suggests that you should:

 

“Write down three things that went well each day and their causes every night for one week. In addition, provide a causal explanation for each good thing.” (Seligman, M. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C., 2005)

 

Practicing this simple exercise will bump your happiness level by 9% over a 6-month period. The longer you do it, the more effective it becomes. It is important to spell out why something went well in order to build out the connections in your brain. At first, the gratitude part of your brain will be like a one-horse town. Not a lot of roads or people. Then, as you do more and more of these exercises, it’ll turn into a bustling gratitude city, filled with people and roads.

 

There are other popular gratitude exercises you can do as well. One exercise involves writing a letter or email to someone to thank them for helping you. It doesn’t have to be long. You can just concisely and honestly let them know how they helped you.

 

Imagine getting a letter like that? It’d make you feel amazing right?

 

Send it!

 

Another way to short-circuit craving is by deliberately wanting what you have. Think about your relationships. Let your mind think about all that you love about them. Think about the possessions you already have. Again, let your mind marinate on them. We can shift our focus from what we do not have to what we do have in order to increase satisfaction.

 

The ancient Stoics took this a step further by practicing what William Irvine calls “negative visualization.” Call to mind those same relationships and possessions again. What would happen if you lost them? This is what happens when we face a catastrophe. Things come into perspective real quick. Instead of worrying about the new gadget we are hungering for, or the next vacation, we immediately start thinking about how to solve the crisis. Unexpected calamities have a way of showing us what is ultimately important.

 

Stoics sometimes even deliberately gave up things they owned in order to live with less. If they were rich, then they might live like a homeless person for a few days. They would do this regularly in order to keep that process of dissatisfaction from taking root. Here is an example from my life. I went hiking with my sister and a friend on the Appalachian trail for 7 days. No change of clothes, no hot shower, no bed. By the end of it, I was thankful for just a hot cup of coffee and a shave. As they say, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” This is true of people, possessions, and experiences.

 

A final exercise is to think about people that have less than you. If you are in the Western world, then you have a much better life than 99% of the people on the planet. You are living like a king or queen might have lived in our not too distant past. Humans are, by nature, comparison machines. Usually, we focus on comparing ourselves to those who have much more than we do, which makes us feel terrible about our lives. But, you can leverage this weakness by comparing yourselves with the many people that are struggling in our world. This can help put your many blessings into perspective.

 

In sum, Cup 3 focuses on practicing mindfulness and gratitude skills to increase calm in your life. You are hardwired to be anxious. In order to overcome worry and negative feelings, you have to deliberately practice skills on a daily basis to keep yourself moving in the right direction. The skills are simple, free, and proven to work. And on 7 Cups, you can find an app and a community to support you, so you can stay one step ahead of that downward escalator.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 9:

Cup 4: Live

 

Sleep, Eat and Move!

 

The simple truth is that your brain is in your body. It is one part of the complex system of your body, a system we are just beginning to understand. You could read book after book and spend hundreds of hours talking to the most brilliant experts in order to unravel your psychological challenges. However, if you are not sleeping, eating, and exercising, then all of this will be for naught. These core self-care skills are fundamental to your life and functioning. We can not expect to grow and move forward as people if we do not get the basics right.

 

The unfortunate thing is that the three basic life functions get high-jacked by our distraction systems, making them feel complicated and difficult, sometimes impossible. Volumes of books address these three skills, but many of them get lost in complex explanations. Fortunately it really isn’t that complicated. Learning to do these things well is very simple. When you get the basics down, you take care of your brain and body and your life will get much, much, better.

 

Sleep

 

We sleep for one third of our lives. Think about that for a second. Each day, we spend 2/3rds of the day awake and 1/3rd sleeping. Sleeping is a huge part of our lives, but we tend to minimize its importance.

 

To illustrate this, think about your work life for a moment. Like sleep, you will also spend one third of your life working. As individuals and as a society, we talk and think about work about 10x more than we think about sleep.

 

Doesn’t that seem odd?

 

Perhaps because it is a passive and largely unconscious process, we consider it somewhat optional as adults. Sleep doesn’t feel productive! But,arguably, it is one of the most important factors for your physical and emotional health. You absolutely cannot expect to make your life better if you are not sleeping well. Sleep is fundamentally important. Let me say it again. If you are not sleeping well, then you will not be healthy. It is as simple as that.

 

Why is sleep so important?

 

Sleep is so important because it gives your brain a chance to rest and clean itself of all the toxins and rogue molecules that are associated with brain decay. Think about your brain as a thriving metropolis, like one of the biggest cities on earth. It is lit up with over a billion lights, roads, sky scrapers, and communication centers. It is alive like nothing else. In the daytime, this city is bustling. Late at night there are pockets of it that are still hopping, but, for the most part, it is dark and quiet. This is when the street sweepers come out. All of the cars are parked and away for the night. They can go down every road, pick up all the trash, get rid of the dirt and grime that has built up during the day. Everybody wakes up the next morning and the city looks great. They have no idea that there have been millions of people cleaning it up while they slept. In the brain, these trash men are called glial cells. They do very important work.

 

What happens to cities when nobody cleans them up at night? The trash starts to pile up. The smells become unbearable. It starts to feel dangerous or unsafe. Nobody wants to live in those cities.

 

The same is true for our brains. When we don’t let the glial cells clean our streets, we, too, start to be unpleasant. We get irritated more easily, we make bad decisions, and we get emotionally uneven. We sometimes make the problem worse by pumping our brains full of caffeine and other chemicals to try to compensate. All of this just makes it harder to sleep at night.

 

And this cleaning and repairing process is happening not just in the brain, but throughout the entire body. Toxins are being cleaned out and tissue repaired throughout your body. Studies also show that the stress hormone cortisol is higher in individuals who are sleep deprived. This hormone is linked to obesity and every other health concern.

 

 

 

Here are some basic tips to help you sleep better.

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Do not drink any sort of caffeine after noon. Yes, this applies to everyone, even if you think that caffeine does not impact you.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Do not take more than a cat nap during the day. If you nap, then you will not be tired when it is time to go to bed. (This, of course does not include those who are forced to be up during the night, such as new parents of infants and those caring for the sick. However, be aware that nighttime rest is quantifiably different from daytime rest, and work to get as much rest during the night as possible.)

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Exercise during the day. It doesn’t have to be much. A walk or a jog is sufficient. You just want your body to be physically tired.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Do not drink alcohol before for 2 hours prior to going to sleep. If you plan to go to bed at 11:00 PM, then do not drink alcohol after 9:00 PM. Alcohol allows you to sleep well for the first part, but negatively impacts the second half of sleep.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Wear an eye-covering mask. Yes, I’m recommending you get one of those masks. Yes, men can wear them too. I do. Your brain has something called the reticular activating system. It is extraordinarily sensitive to light. If you wake up early and are not rested, then get a mask to block out the light. Also, get thicker curtains to further limit any light that gets through.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Use a fan or noise machine to block out sound if you live in an area with a lot of noise or have noise interruptions that wake you up. You can also just use earplugs. They take some getting used to, but they are cheap and they work.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Do not use a computer or smartphone for 2 hours before going to bed. If you want to sleep at midnight, then make sure you are not using your phone at 10:00. Checking your email, or looking at social media, gears your brain up when it should be winding down.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Do not watch a gory, violent, or extremely thought provoking film prior to going to sleep. If you watch any of these sorts of films prior to sleep, then you run the risk of over activating your brain. It may want to keep on processing the movie. If it does, then you will not be able to sleep.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Spend time 3 hours before you go to sleep talking with someone or journaling about anything in your day that feels unsettled. If you ignore these issues, then they’ll visit you when you are trying to sleep. They are patiently waiting to be processed and will take advantage of the quiet they sense when you are trying to get ready for sleep. Resolve them earlier to let your mind naturally fall asleep.

Please do not dismiss how important sleep is to your health. Just because we do not talk about sleep a lot does not mean that it is not critically important. You’ve got to let the clean up crew do their work while you sleep so your brain and body can function well together and you can feel well. Follow the above guidelines to start sleeping good.

 

Eating

 

Eating is different from sleep in that we talk about it a lot. Food is central to every culture in the world. Most parties, holidays, and events have food as a key part. People even take pictures of the food they are eating and share it on social media. But, in the western world, food has taken on another face. As we have already covered in detail, food companies have created mountains of fake foods which we have become addicted to. But, at the same time, we also have a compulsive desire to be thin and perfect like all of our favorite celebrities. This creates a painful self-loathing which is fueled by the popular media and beauty magazines. Now add to that a diet industry worth billions of dollars, which promises to rescue us, but instead sells us confusing and conflicting information.

 

It is clear that, for many of us, food has become a painful tug of war, pulled between an addiction to processed junk with our compulsion to be thin and perfect. One feels like an escape from the other, but, in reality, they are both dead ends. This dynamic is negatively impacting our physical and emotional health.

The good news is that this is all part of the system of distraction which we have been talking about. If are struggling with food and body-image issues, this program can help you unlock the trap and step out. You can be free.

 

Let’s start with the simple how to eat.

 

There is a lot of advice and recommendations out there about food. It can feel pretty overwhelming and confusing. One diet restricts one food group, another diet restricts a different food group. They both claim amazing results. You may even get good results from both of them. Fortunately, if you look at what is in common about all the major successful diets, much of it can be boiled down into a simple statement. If you keep this in mind, and eat accordingly, then you should be good. Michael Pollan said:

 

 

That really is the heart of it. Read that a few more times to let it sink in. This is what a healthy diet comes down to and it’s easy to break down.

 

Eat food.” Food comes from the earth, not a laboratory. The less a food is processed, the better. Here’s an example.

 

Fruit…Dried Fruit…Fruit Juice…Fruit Loops

 

Fresh fruit is food. This is the best option. It is packed with vitamins and minerals, antioxidants, fiber and energy. Dried fruit is processed fruit, with an age retardant and sugar added. This is still food, but has elements added that are hard for your body to process. Fruit juice is food with all of the good fiber taken out so that it is basically just the sugar left. Taken out of it’s natural context, this sugar is hard for your body to process. Fruit Loops has no fruit in it. What it does have is a lot of sugar, food dyes and other unnatural ingredients that are hard for your body to process. The further away you get from the tree, the less it will help your body and the more likely that it will do harm. Zero calorie sweeteners are not food.

 

Not too much.” Your body has a natural way of telling you how much food it needs. It is very nuanced. It corrects automatically for the amount of physical activity you get and, if you become very tuned in to it, can even direct you to which types of food your body needs right now. This mechanism is called hunger. The turn off mechanism is called fullness. If you want to know how much food is “not too much”, begin to listen to your body. Start eating when your stomach growls and stop before your belly feels stuffed. It can be tricky to figure out hunger and fullness if you are not used to them. It takes practice. And, again, if you are eating the processed fake food, it will be even more difficult for you. Processed grains and sugars cause inflammation in the body. Even if you don’t have an autoimmune disease or allergy, these toxins will just make you feel kind of uncomfortable. Your blood sugar will spike and dip erratically and your body will be ill at ease. You will find yourself looking for more food to try to settle your body down. If you feel like, once you start eating, you can’t stop, you can be sure that you are suffering from inflammation caused by what you are putting into your body.

 

“Mostly plants.” There is no diet on earth that asks you to stop eating vegetables. Whether you are a vegan or Paleo enthusiast, eat you vegetables every day. When you plan your meals, start with the vegetables.

 

Knowing and doing are two different things, so here are a few tips to help you start out.

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Drink a big glass of water before every meal. Dr. Davy of Virginia Tech did a big study (the best kind) where she instructed people to drink a pint of water before every meal. On average, the people cut their calorie intake (or the amount of food they consumed) by a third a day. This works because your belly has limited space. When you fill up that space with a big glass of water before eating, then you are essentially shrinking the stomach space where the food can go. You meet that “I’m full” place much more quickly.

You are manually doing with a glass of water what people do when they go through bariatric surgery, but for a much lower cost and without the risk. The surgeon, in this procedure, reduces the size of the stomach.

It also solves the problem of dehydration. Most Americans are chronically dehydrated, which causes it’s own host of difficulties. You will be amazed what will change for you if you just start drinking more water.

Like all of the exercises in this book, drinking a big glass of water before each meal works, is simple to do, and, best of all, it is free.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Pay attention to what you are drinking. Do not drink anything but water, coffee, and tea. Juice, soda, and power drinks are all loaded with sugar and chemical additives. And zero calorie sweeteners are cancer-causing. They are not food. Cut them from your diet.

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Start slowly and add healthy eating habits every week. Crash diets don’t work. We are less concerned about your weight and more concerned about you being healthy and getting free of the old diet/food distraction. Set a small lifestyle goal, such as “stop drinking soda”, and then use all of the support you need to accomplish that goal. When you are breaking an addiction, you can expect a lot of unpleasant feeling to arise. Acknowledge those feelings and that you will stay trapped unless you begin to deal with them. These are the feelings that you have been using the food distraction to avoid. Use the 7 Cups program to work through those feelings until you are free. Then add another gain.

 

Don’t go backward, but don’t let setbacks stop you either. Small regressions are part of progress. Sometimes we have to travel the same road a few times in order to really learn the lesson it has to teach us. It’s ok.

 

 

#
p<>{color:#000;}. Consider an exploratory fast. This can be applied to food and any other addiction or distraction. If giving up a certain type of food or behavior feels intimidating, it can be helpful to try giving it up in a short term way first. This allows you to experience the benefits of giving it up first hand, which can help you commit to giving it up for good later. For instance, I can tell you until I am blue in the face that processed food is toxic and causing harm to your body. But, if you give it up for 1 week and pay attention to how different you feel, you will never need to hear it from me again. You will internally motivated to change by your earlier experience of feeling great. This is an easy way to teach yourself healthy habits.

Reach out when you need to. Making significant changes to your diet can be challenging, but with the support of others, you can do it. We have great listeners at 7 Cups who can help you make healthy food choices an integral part of your life.

Move

 

My grandmother is 86 years old. She swims 3 days a week for an hour each time. She likes to be busy. When she cannot swim she starts to get cranky. Doctors cannot believe how well she is doing both physically and mentally. In fact, she is seemingly getting even younger and smarter than before.

 

Exercise is great for brain and physical health.

 

There are a number of correlational studies that show that physical exercise is very good for your brain. It seems to fight against brain aging and helps you do better at problem solving. Simple exercise is likely even better than those brain training games, crossword puzzles, or sudoku.

 

Exercise is also great for mental health. We know this though, right? Think about a time when you were stressed out, anxious, or sad and then did a bit of exercising. How did you feel when you finished exercising? Better, right? Exercising is a very powerful way of shifting your mood. Just taking a walk and getting some fresh air can help put things in perspective. In fact, the research shows that for many, just 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise per day can be as effective as an antidepressant or antianxiety medication in shifting your mood. That means that, while exercise is making you feel good right now, consistent exercise will actually also change the trajectory of your life long term.

 

Contrary to popular belief, exercising does not have to be challenging or strenuous to have health benefits. In fact, for most of us, moderate exercise is ideal. People that do marathons and triathlons may actually be doing more harm than good.

 

What do the experts recommend?

 

They’d like you to get at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week. You can do this for an hour a day 3 days a week or for 30 minutes a day 5 days a week. Alternatively, you can sneak 15 minutes in here and there to get to that total if it is challenging to carve out longer periods of time.

 

What kind of activity is recommended?

 

They recommend the equivalent of a brisk walk. Imagine walking with a friend where you are walking at a slightly faster rate than normal. You can easily talk with them while walking and you are not out of breath. Once you get into it, you should find yourself warmed up, but not sweating too much. For example, if you are wearing a t-shirt and a sweatshirt, perhaps halfway through you find yourself removing your sweatshirt to cool down a bit.

 

Like with these other recommendations, do not make an unrealistic goal or put too much pressure on yourself. That never works. Instead, start small. If you are not exercising at all right now, then make a goal to take two 15 minute walks this week. When you do that successfully, pat yourself on a back and share this victory with a friend or a listener on 7 Cups to get encouragement. Next, take three 15 minute walks the next week. Keep adding this at a rate that feels comfortable to you. Within a matter of weeks you will have moved from no exercise to a very healthy amount of regular weekly exercise.

 

Another tip: exercise in a way that feels enjoyable to you. At the gym or hiking by yourself in the woods, an online yoga class in your home or by playing a sport on a team. You are more likely to follow through with exercise if you find an activity that feels like a treat to you.

 

In closing this chapter, Cup 4 is all about living in a healthy manner. We have a brain. It lives in our body. If we do not take care of our body and brain, then we, very simply, cannot be healthy. Fortunately, living in a healthy manner is more simple to do than you may have realized and it feels fantastic. Of course, some of these changes will probably come in direct conflict with your personal distraction systems. If you find yourself bumping up against a major problem, reach out for support to find your way through.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 10

 

Cup 5: Accept

Accept what life brings you

 

“Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

-The Serenity Prayer

 

My mother and father each told me of recurring nightmares they have had, which had a similar theme. In my father’s dream, he is being chased by some kind of monster. He is too afraid to look back and is running as fast as he can, barely keeping ahead of the beast. He described having this dream over and over again, so often, that when he was in the dream he would remember that he had dreamt it before. Finally, one night, he had the dream again. But this time, he has a conversation with himself, “I keep running but I can’t get away. How can I get this dream to stop?” He decided to do something different to see what would happen. So he stops running and turns around. When he turns around, he sees a blinding light behind him, he can’t make out any shapes or anything because of the light. But he starts running as fast as he can toward the light and wakes up. He never had the dream again.

 

My mother’s recurring nightmare happened when she was a child. In the nightmare there is a little man standing behind her closet door. She is lying in her bed, paralyzed with fear, she can’t see the little man because the closet door is closed, but she knows that he is there. Eventually, my mother told my grandmother that she kept having this nightmare and my grandmother, being the wise woman that she was said, “Maybe he wants to be your friend.” My mother says that the next time she had that dream, she forced herself to get out of bed and go to the closet and open the door. There was the little man, a cute little gnome-looking guy with a big friendly smile. She knew instantly that he was nothing to fear and woke up. She also never had the dream again.

 

People have a deep distrust of the unknown.

 

Of course, it’s easy to understand why. We like what is familiar to us. We know how to handle what is familiar to us, even if it’s bad, but we have no idea if we will be able to handle what is on the other side of that unknown. We are fine as long as we keep running as fast as we can or as long as we are lying paralyzed in our bed, but we know that if we get up and open that closet door, then we have to deal with whatever is behind it. And, boy can we imagine some creepy stuff behind that door.

 

That is why love is such an important place to return to. I have to believe that my mother found the courage to change that dream because deep down she trusted my grandmother, who was kind and warm and wise. Her mother’s dependable love made it into her dream state and she was finally able to face and conquer her fear. Love helps us feel safe as we step into the unknown.

 

In the beginning of this book, we described the concept of “the shadow,” which represents all of your rejected characteristics, impulses, desires and emotions. The shadow was constructed because of painful experiences and traumas big and small. In addition, because we then deny those memories and emotions, we continue to be disconnected from our daily experiences, especially the painful ones, never fully experiencing our lives.

 

How do we unravel this, reconnect with our rejected pieces and gain freedom?

 

The process is actually very simple. It is not easy, but it is simple.

 

You see, your psyche already knows how to heal, in fact, it is actively trying to heal. That’s the reason why these negative feelings keep coming up, keep popping in. They are trying to integrate. The shadow is running after you, much like the beast in my father’s dream. The simple answer is to just stop running and turn around.

 

Meet Your Negative Emotions

 

I am a big champion of negative emotions. Sadly, they are an almost completely misunderstood subset of our emotional package, grossly underrated. We don’t like them, they feel terrible, sometimes like they will tear us apart. They are scary and we really want nothing to do with them. Avoiding our negative emotions is the foundation for our entire distraction system. If we had no negative emotions, we would have no need for distractions. We would instead want to be very present in our awesome, happy lives! But negative emotions are extremely valuable, and we really can’t go on without them.

 

Let me tell you five helpful insights about negative emotions.

 

1. Negative emotions happen in your body. In fact, all of your feelings happen in your body, that’s why they are called feelings – because we FEEL them.

 

There is a misconception that negative emotions happen in your brain. Indeed, there is a brain component to what we feel, but it is best to think of this as the tip of the iceberg. If you’ve ever felt afraid or panicked, you would probably describe it as gripping or squeezing your chest. Anxiety can feel like butterflies in your belly. Guilt, when we really open up to it, might feel like a laser is burning the heart. Excitement can feel like giddy energy that makes you want to jump and dance. We will all have different ways to describe these feelings, but the key is, when you are learning to truly feel your feelings, you have to look for them in your body. Mindfulness is a really great tool to help you connect with those experiences.

 

2. Negative emotions have a job to do. They change you. They may be the way emotional injuries feel, but they are also the way emotional injuries heal.

 

Your negative emotions have the job of changing you into the person who can handle this life. You can think of it like there is a precious gold nugget or jewel hidden in the depths of every negative emotion you feel. Your job is to dive down and open up to it until it reveals itself to you. You may not be able to even put words to what you have discovered, but there will be strength or wisdom, a healthier interpersonal boundary or self-esteem added to your heart from each dive.

 

3. They hold information that you need to make future decisions.

 

This is where the brain comes in. The brain is like the Captain of a giant ship. The Captain sits high above and takes in information from across the ship, from other ships in the vicinity, and from weather reporting agencies. In order to keep the ship safe and get it where it is going, he has to use this information to make moment by moment decisions.

There is an actual part of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex, that has this Captain’s job. It develops throughout childhood and into early adulthood. (In fact, research shows that the prefrontal cortex isn’t fully developed until a person reaches age 30, which tells us that our older teens and 20 somethings still need support to make good judgement calls.) This part of the brain is best nurtured in an environment of warmth and safety, where a person can both reflect on the consequences of actions and also have a loving person help them make sense of those experiences. The prefrontal cortex can be stunted if a person is constantly in physical or emotional danger and doesn’t have a safe and loving other to help them navigate. It can always grow and learning to talk through your experience with another person you trust and taking quiet time to reflect on those experiences can help your prefrontal cortex mature no matter how old you are. You can help your captain become a better captain.

 

Our prefrontal cortex is taking in information from our bodies, from our senses and from the social environment around us and using that information, as well as everything you know about the world, to make decisions on a moment by moment basis. And our negative emotions are a big part of that puzzle. For example, if our significant other insults us, hurting our feelings, it can be an easy, knee-jerk reaction to stuff those feelings down. Maybe we aren’t comfortable with conflict. If we instead take a moment to ourselves and allow ourselves to feel the rejection and pain, the fear of being alone that is triggered and our own fear that we are not worthy of real love, we will be changed. Really changed. We will be one step closer to, “I have to know if I can be loved for who I am. This kind of hurt is worse than being alone. Knowing is the only option.” That information that we are being hurt by this person and that maybe we are a little broken on the inside will lead us to protect ourselves more and handle conflict differently in the future. It will help us to break the cycle we are stuck in.

 

Jung tried to capture this truth when he said that, “the symptom holds the key.” When your physical body is sick or you have an injury you pay attention to the signs your body gives off that something is wrong. If you have a fever, you listen to that symptom and take care of yourself. You do not ignore it. Similarly, if you are a runner, and you hurt your knee, then you listen to that pain. If you avoid it, then it’ll just get worse. We tend to listen to our physical symptoms, but avoid or ignore our psychological symptoms, especially negative feelings. We experience sadness, because there is something to feel sad about. We experience anxiety, because there is something that anxiety wants us to know. Like our physical symptoms, negative feelings have important information to tell us.

4. Negative emotions are like waves – they rise up to their peak and then fall and fade away.

 

We avoid negative emotions because they feel so bad, but also because they can sometimes feel like they will stay forever. We can become afraid that that sadness and loneliness or fear represents “reality” and that once we give into it, that is what our life will be like. The truth is, when you open up to your negative emotions, they will come and they will go. Sometimes they will come at inconvenient times. Sometimes they will feel overwhelming. But they will always go on their own. Even a panic attack, if you do absolutely nothing but suffer through it, will still fade on its own. The really good news is that the more you feel them, the better you will get at feeling them. They won’t feel so scary. And, as you continue to feel them, you will grow stronger and better able to navigate life.

 

5. They aren’t going anywhere. Remember that rhyme about going on a bear hunt “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we have to go THROUGH it.” The only way out is through, so there is really only one real option if your goal is freedom and a good life: feel those feelings!

 

Your negative feelings are an important part of who you are. Avoiding them only makes them yell louder. Accepting them and learning to listen to them opens you up to new levels of connection and growth.

 

Accepting what you cannot change

 

Our celebrity-driven culture is constantly bombarding us with images of perfect, beautiful people living perfect, beautiful lives. If these magazine and tv shows are to be believed, there are people on this planet waking up each day to a perfect, pain-free existence. It can start to feel like this ideal life is the only life worth having. The only problem, and it’s a big one, is that this perfect, pain-free life doesn’t exist and it never will. In reality, each one of us is living a life filled with struggles. Our lives are not only filled with unique struggles, though, but also with potential for breathtaking beauty and deep joy. None of it is tv-ready and that’s ok.

 

All of Buddhism starts with the observation that life is suffering. The meaning of this is that we increase suffering when we expect things to go a certain way and hold on too tightly to our plans. We are holding onto our plans for a perfect life. When accept that our path is unique and that many things on our path will be unplanned, we reduce our suffering and increase our happiness

 

Likewise, the Serenity Prayer very wisely teaches us that, in order to live in freedom, we must distinguish between what we can control and what we cannot control in our lives. There are many, many things that are not and have never been within our control. The family we were born into, how adults behaved towards us when we were small, our gifting and our limitations are all examples of things we don’t have control over. Sickness, disaster, accidents, these may all be part of our path at some point in the future, and most will be absolutely out of our hands.

 

There is no shortage of opportunities to learn this truth, as much of life does not go according to plan. It helps us feel safe to imagine that we are in control of what happens. However, if you look back on the last 10 years of your life, you will see that most of the significant twists and turns were not planned. The big things in life seem to emerge and the only thing we can really control is how we respond to them. These events end up shaping us more profoundly than our own plans ever could.

 

This can be a good thing because often times, as it turns out, the good things we plan end up being bad for us. I know many people that have achieved things in life only to find out that the accomplishment was not what they thought it would be. They feel let down and often struggle to find meaning again.

 

On the other hand, people can experience difficult and even very painful things that become the cornerstone of their personal strength and life message. A really great contemporary example of this is Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who was shot in the face by the Taliban for speaking out for the rights of girls. Instead of killing her, or even slowing her down, this incident brought the attention of the world to her. Now, she has won a Nobel Peace Prize and has a global platform fighting for the basic human right of education for girls worldwide. You can learn more about her here: www.malala.org/malalas-story.

 

The key to a bad thing being turned into a really incredible thing is that the person decides to respond with openness and courage. You see, you may not be in control of everything that happens to you, but you are still in control of your destiny.

 

Grant me the courage to change what I can

 

Stephen Covey created this diagram to illustrate what we worry about versus what we can actually control. Our worries are our “Circle of Concern.” Our influence over those concerns are our “Circle of Influence” (Irvine, 2009).

 

 

In terms of your life, it can be helpful to break things down into those that you can fully control, things you can have some control over, and things that you don’t have any control over (Irvine, 2009):

Things you can 100% control: how you eat, how much you exercise, friends you select

Things you have some control over: your work or school environment, how much effort you contribute, how you relate to family members, grades, promotions

Things you have no control over: the economy, how much things cost, the weather

 

Spend less time worrying about things you can’t control and more time being proactive about the things you can. It can be a great relief to have permission to look at reality and say “I will try my best, but there will always be variables beyond my control.”

 

Cup 5 is about accepting what life brings you. We have a natural tendency to avoid problems and their accompanying negative feelings. These feelings are a part of us. If we ignore them, they just grow stronger and more rambunctious. If we mindfully experience, open, and accept them, they pass through us like a cloud passing through a sky. They leave us wiser, more insightful, and more empathic. We owe it to ourselves to accept and integrate what life brings us. Helping ourselves can also lead to helping others that are going through similar struggles. Helping ourselves can also lead to helping others that are going through similar struggles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 11:

Cup 6: Care

 

Care for others that need support

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.

If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

-Dalai Lama

 

Let’s start this chapter with the allegory of the long spoons.

 

One day a man said to God, “God, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like.”

God showed the man two doors. Inside the first one, in the middle of the room, was a large round table with a large pot of stew. It smelled delicious and made the man’s mouth water, but the people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.

The man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. God said, “You have seen Hell.”

Behind the second door, the room appeared exactly the same. There was the large round table with the large pot of wonderful stew that made the man’s mouth water. The people had the same long-handled spoons, but they were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking.

The man said, “I don’t understand.”

God smiled. “It is simple,” he said. “Love only requires one skill. These people learned early on to share and feed one another. While the greedy only think of themselves.”

-Rabbi Haim

 

We are all, right now, in our own sort of Heaven or Hell. These rooms are like our lives. When we self-protect and stubbornly look out for only ourselves, we are all miserable and hungry for that magic stew called love. When we care for one another, we get to eat all the magic stew we want.

 

Imagine if there really was a vat of magic stew that you could always access. You could just summon it whenever you wanted. It’d appear and you’d take a couple of big spoonfuls. Immediately, you’d be filled with this deep warmth, joy, and nourishment.

 

The amazing thing, is that we live in that very sort of world. The magic stew is always available. The way to summon it is to provide self-sacrificial care to another vulnerable person. When you do that, you get the magic stew. It is as simple and as difficult as that.

 

Caring is Hard

 

Erich Fromm wrote one of my favorite books called the Art of Loving. You can find it online for free . Fromm argued that love is a practice. In his words:

 

The first step to take is to become aware that love is an art, just as living is an art; if we want to learn how to love we must proceed in the same way we have to proceed if we want to learn any other art, say music, painting, carpentry, or the art of medicine or engineering. (p.5)

We are often under the mistaken assumption that love will just spontaneously surface in our lives. Well, unfortunately, this part of love, consistently caring for others who are vulnerable, is not typically impromptu. It is just flat out hard work and you have to choose to do it.

Here is a very recent example from my life. I’m trying to get this book done, so I’m really focused on it right now. My 3 year-old daughter walked up to me and said, “Daddy, will you play Woodsies with me?” I really did not want to play Woodsies. I wanted to focus on writing this book. I said, ‘Okay, honey, let’s play Woodsies.’ I put the computer down and played for the next 45 minutes. One of her big sisters joined us. We had a blast, even though at the beginning, it was not at all what I wanted to do.

 

Life gives us scores of opportunities each day to practice caring for another person. If you pay attention to this for a single day, you’ll be very surprised by how many people need care. They often don’t come right out and ask for it, but there is a lot of hinting or bidding for care. People all around us – in the office, in the classroom, at home – are struggling and need support.

 

What Fromm suggests is that you get good at caring by simply practicing it. If you are anything like me, you’ll be kind of bad at it at first. Then, as you start doing small things for people it’ll get easier and easier. Before you know it, it’ll almost feel natural. Plus, all the while, you get magic stew, which of course makes it much easier and more rewarding.

 

Self-Sacrificial Love is Potent

 

This love is especially potent for both the giver and the receiver when it involves self-sacrifice. A wealthy person giving is great and should be welcomed, but it means less than when a poor person gives. Now, if a wealthy person genuinely gives all of their wealth away to the point of actual self-sacrifice, then it means quite a bit to all of us. This is just such a rare occurrence. Money, as we mentioned before is quite addictive, and, oftentimes, the more you have, the more it has you.

 

Self-sacrifice opens the door to a level of potency that does not get accessed without it. A few years ago I met a friend at a diner to catch up with her. She is a very hardworking, creative, and thoughtful person. At that time, her biggest weakness was getting involved with men that took advantage of her. I had followed her and offered support here and there to help her get through some rough times. We met on that day because things were getting pretty bad in her most recent relationship.

 

I was sitting with her talking about her options and it occurred to me that she was disempowered. She did not realize that she was the one with the power in the situation. The boyfriend had somehow brainwashed her into thinking that she was lucky to be with him. There was plenty of evidence that she was of a much higher caliber, but he had convinced her that she was the fortunate one.

 

This perception of herself as less than started to falter because there was some suspicion that he may have been cheating on her. She wanted to share her fears and concerns with me. We talked for a while and she said that she couldn’t leave him because of their financial problems. They were always struggling to cover their bills.

 

Despite this woman being very smart, she had never sat down and put a budget together. She did some small errands for people and had a regular job, but didn’t really know how much money she had coming in each month. She also didn’t know how much she was spending. On the back of one of those placemats with all the square boxes of advertising, we mapped out her first budget as an adult.

 

Guess what?

 

It turned out she was making enough money each month. In fact, her boyfriend was spending her money and she wasn’t aware of it. That was the only way to explain why they were short every month.

 

This was a pretty big insight for her, but I could still tell she didn’t quite believe she had enough to make it. She needed more of a cushion. The idea would be that it might take a few months for her to get the confidence and to a good enough spot to consider leaving him.

 

We then made a plan for her to protect her money so he wouldn’t spend it. We role-played what she would say to her boyfriend. I also gave her some money to help her feel a bit more safe. This is the important part. The amount of money I gave her was a lot for me at the time. It stung. It was an actual sacrifice.

 

I left that day feeling encouraged, but unsure if she’d get to the spot of moving on with her life. It was clear that this person was a major tax on her. However, I’ve worked with a lot women and sometimes they choose to stay with men that are not good for them. I gave her a big hug and left.

 

I had to go to a conference later that evening in a city a couple of hours away. I got a call from her. She was whispering because her boyfriend was in the other room. I was thinking, “Uh oh, I hope she’s okay. I’m two hours away and there is nothing I can do about it.” She said, “I’m fine. I did it. I broke up with him.” I couldn’t believe it. She was whispering, but she was also deeply calm. She had made her decision. She had just needed someone to believe in her.

 

That money, without a doubt, was the best money I have ever spent or invested in my life. It did more for this friend and more for me than I could ever imagine.

 

I’ve observed this and experienced it in my own life many times. Self-sacrificial care has real potency to it. Self-sacrifice can be giving up time and other items, not just money. When you give to the point of self-sacrifice, you are putting yourself in a place of need. You are sharing what you have and you are truly sharing the other person’s need. It is an interpersonal connection that heals and empowers both parties involved.

 

Caveats

 

We are not talking about dependent care here, or what might be called people-pleasing care. Dependent care is not healthy. If you are giving to another because you feel compelled, to get people to like you, or because you feel unworthy of real love, then this is not a healthy position for you to take. It is not difficult to tell if this is the case, as this kind of giving is draining instead of uplifting. It usually enables another person to continue in bad behavior for which they need to take responsibility.

 

We are also not talking about caring for others with strings attached. This is not real giving, rather an exchange of goods, a business arrangement. When you care for somebody else, simply care. Let it be what it is. Do not expect to call in a favor later. You might be in a real jam and the person may be in a position to help you, but please do not give to deliberately put yourself in a position to cash in these chips later on. Other people can feel this. They may take what you are offering but they will feel manipulated and disempowered.

 

Caring for Other People Helps You

 

When you authentically care for another person, you also help yourself. Think back for a second to a time when you provided self-sacrificial care for another person. How did it feel? What was it like?

If you are like most people, then it likely felt remarkably good. It gave you a sense of dignity and pride. It also likely filled you with a great warmth and helped you clearly see what is ultimately important in life. I’ve heard this referred to as the “helper’s high.” I call it magic stew.

 

We have listeners on 7 Cups that have helped thousands of people. I admire and respect these people. They are a shining light to me. They do it because they are special people, and they also do it because it helps them. It is absolutely beautiful that if you care for someone else for the right reasons that, somehow, it comes back to you and helps you in one way or another. Fromm captures it again:

 

For the productive character, giving has an entirely different meaning. Giving is the highest expression of potency. In the very act of giving, I experience my strength, my wealth, my power. This experience of heightened vitality and potency fills me with joy. I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous.’ Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.

 

I love Fromm’s description. When I give, I live, for a moment, in that secret place where there is enough for all. When I give, I act from my hope and from my faith in that secret place, and in my giving I make it exist a little more. If we all gave like this, we could all live in that secret place of plenty together. That sounds like Heaven to me.

 

No Judgment

 

Our highest value on 7 Cups is that we treat one another with honor and respect.

Value 1:

 

How we treat one another will impact how we treat people seeking help on 7 Cups. Our culture sets the cornerstone by which the rest of our “building” will be set.

We believe that people are inherently valuable. We do not measure people based on where they are from or what position they hold.

We do not judge or look down on people. We recognize that people make sense in the larger context or story of their lives. Sometimes it can seem like people are making choices that do not make sense, but this is likely because we do know the full story. We understand that people are complicated and that life is not simple or easy.

 

When we help other people it can be tempting to judge them. Please know that they are doing all that they can and all that they know how to do to make their lives better. People who are unemployed do not like being unemployed. It is terrible for their mental health. Similarly, people asking for money on the streets are not well. By and large, they are asking for money because they are mentally ill and unable to navigate life. Nobody wants to be poor or struggling and judgement never helps anyone.

 

Also, when you see that a person is struggling, it can also be helpful to realize that we do not all get to begin on the same starting line in life. Many of us are several steps back and some of us are a few steps ahead. The privilege walk exercise gets at this by having a group of people line up and asking them to take one step backwards or one step forward based on their experiences. Here are some of the statements. You can read the full exercise [+ here+].

 

If your ancestors came to your home country by force, take one step back.

If there were more than 50 books in your house growing up, take one step forward.

If you ever felt unsafe because of your sexual orientation, take one step back.

If you believe that you were paid less because of your race, gender, or ethnicity, take one step back.

If you were ever stopped or questioned by the police because of your race, take one step back.

If you were embarrassed about your clothes or house while growing up, take one step back.

If your parents or guardians attended college, take one step forward.

If you were raised in an area with crime and drug activity, take one step back.

If you are able to move through the world without fear of sexual assault, take one step forward.

If your family automatically expected you to attend college, take one step forward.

If you have ever traveled outside your home country, take one step forward.

If your parents worked nights and weekends to support your family, take one step backward.

If you get time off for your religious holidays, take one step forward.

If you have a foreign accent, take one step backward.

If you were raised in a single-parent household, take one step backward.

The experience of abuse (sexual, emotional, physical) or trauma is not a part of this exercise, but it should be. If you experienced abuse or trauma, then take 3 steps back.

 

The bottom line is that all people – every single one of us – has dignity and is worthy of respect. People do not make decisions to mess up their lives because they want to. The gains are nowhere near worth it. People make poor choices because they are unaware or unable to make better choices at the time. Sometimes there are also other systems in place that further tax them and make it even more challenging for them to get on a good track. When we care for someone and we are tempted to judge them, we need to make sure that we keep all of this in mind.

 

Rails

 

My wife and I say that we need to provide rails to help our kids learn something. We all need rails to learn how to better care for one another. Fortunately, there are many places we can go to learn this practice.

 

One place is your life. At any given point, 30-40% of the people around you are going through a rough time. Simply focusing on them and listening to them will help them feel better. You may need to learn to see distress in people. We are used to ignoring it because we are afraid that it might make the person feel uncomfortable if we know they are struggling. No need to force it. Simply checking in on them will do the trick.

Caring for another person is not hard in a technical sense. There is no instruction manual to follow. It is much easier than that and you are already good at it. Think about a good friend you have. If that good friend called you and said they were going through a rough patch, then you’d just listen and care for them. Just treat other people like you would your good friend. It’ll mean the world to them.

 

You can also go work for a charity, non-profit, or ministry. Soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and prison ministries are all places to find people that are struggling. What I like most about these places is that the people that run them are overcomers. Many of them were once in the shoes of the people now seeking help. These are salt of the earth type of people – my favorite kind. They look older than they are because they’ve had hard lives, but they’ve earned every wrinkle. When you look into their eyes you also see a deep love and kindness that makes them particularly unusual.

 

These places always need help, so simply calling or showing up is likely enough to get you in the door. Some people are afraid of homeless people, people with severe mental illness, or people with drug addictions. There is nothing to be afraid of. These people are just people that have fallen on really hard times and having passed through the cracks of our systems of care. They really are just like you and me. Much of society looks right past them. When you notice them, look at them directly, with respect and kindness in your eyes, it gives them something that is very valuable. It gives them courage to believe that they are worthwhile, that they have dignity and that they do indeed deserve our respect.

 

I’ve had the good fortune of getting to hang out with a lot of different people in life. Very smart technologists, brilliant scientists, productive academics, insightful researchers, wealthy business people, and many others. Though I like and enjoy all of these people, I’d much rather hang out in a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen. The authenticity, kindness, and vitality you find in the people here – both the people giving and receiving help – is not found in any of these other circles. It is special. It is where I find the best magic stew.

 

And, of course, you can join us on 7 Cups. People come to 7 Cups looking for help and support. They are practicing Cup 1 in that they are being vulnerable and sharing what is on their heart. We match Cup 1 people with Cup 6 people – people that are caring for vulnerable people. You listen to people by text chatting with them through our website or apps. The power of anonymity allows people to deeply share what is going on in their life. You, as a listener, may be on the other side of the world. However, through the magic of the Internet, simply noticing, listening, and caring, can bring healing to that person’s heart, even when they are a million miles away.

 

I, too, have practiced Cup 1 and sought help on 7 Cups many times. Most of these times revolved around my anxiety, concerns, and fear that 7 Cups would not make it. There was so much figuring out to do early on. We would fix one problem and 20 more would appear. This is still happening, but less so now. And, fortunately, we’ve had a number of successes so now I feel more confident in our ability to problem solve. However, early on, I did not have that confidence. I put a lot of pressure on myself. I’d hit that connect now button and wait for a listener to pick up. I’d tell them something like I’m an engineer with an incredibly complex project I’m working on. I have a lot of people leaning on me and I’m not sure if we are going to be able to figure it out. They’d listen and reflect. They’d care. I’d tear up, be thankful for their time, feel deep relief, and move forward feeling restored and confident. Those little pit stops on the road helped me and helped 7 Cups get to where it is now. When you listen on 7 Cups, you provide this kind of care and support to others. It not only impacts their life, but it also ripples out and impacts the lives of those around them.

 

You can also visit poor countries to provide care. However, like we stated in the opening story, you should know that the people in these countries know more than they let on. They know that they have something that is missing in our advanced world. A good friend of mine, Jim, tells a story that illustrates this well. He spent a lot of time in Honduras studying the indigenous ways Honduran people provide mental health support to one another. On occasion, teams from different universities in the United States would visit to give back and do service projects. They would volunteer in hospitals, help people in rural areas, and do manual labor. At the end of one such visit, Jim went to the airport with a local teen, Miguel, to see the team off. As they watched the plane take off, Jim asked him, “Miguel, how do you think it went?” Miguel said, “Good. I think we really helped them.”

 

Cup 6, unlike the other cups, is not tea. It is a cup of magic stew. It is also the most important cup. If you can only focus on one cup, then you should focus on Cup 6.

 

At its heart, Cup 6 is about caring for vulnerable people. Learning to care for others takes practice just like any other new skill. It is hard work, but it gets easier over time. An added benefit is that it provides you with magic stew. It is immensely satisfying as it nourishes you both while also making the world a much better place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 12

 

Cup 7: Commit

Live According to What is Important

 

As we’ve been discussing, denial and distraction will work hard to keep you off track in life. They do not want you to live a life that is grounded, satisfying, and purposeful. If you want to live your life in this manner, then you have to decide and commit to it. You have to say to yourself, regularly, day in and day out, I choose to live for what I believe is important. As Yogi Berra said, “If you do not know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” Cup 7, the final cup, is designed to help you get to where you want to go in life.

 

Let’s start with an exercise. I came across this exercise in an executive leadership book many, many years ago. I’ve looked for it online, but cannot find the reference. What follows is my adaption.

To start, please go to a quiet place and give yourself 45 minutes to an hour to think and reflect. When ready, start reading.

 

Exercise

 

Imagine you wake up one morning. You feel rested. The birds are singing. It is a beautiful fall day. The sun is shining and there a few clouds in the sky. You get dressed, grab a cup of coffee or tea, and decide to head out for a weekend drive. The trees are starting to turn. You can see the different shades of yellow and red.

 

You get to one beautiful tree lined street, like a canopy overhead, and you notice that many of your friends and family members are parked. They are dressed up and they are heading into a building with two white doors. You get curious so you pull over and park your car. You are dressed casually, but you decide to go in and see what is going on anyways. You climb the stairs and walk up the sidewalk. You call out to a few of your friends with a warm ‘hello’, but they do not respond. Strange. It seems like they are ignoring you.

 

You open the door and there is a long hallway. Nice thick carpet. The lights are dim. You walk down the hallway to a big room and follow all of your family and friends in. It is a very nice room. Kind of formal. People look sad. You attempt to make eye contact, but, again, nobody will look at you.

 

There is a big central aisle that divides the room. You decide to walk down it. As you are walking down it, you see that there is a lectern and three very special people seated at the front. You know these people. These are the people you are closest to. This is starting to get odd.

 

You also notice that there is a casket. You walk over to the casket and are taken aback. You were not expecting this. The person in the casket is…you. You are at your own funeral. It is the end of your life. You are much older than you are now.

 

No wonder nobody can see you. You are dead. You grab a chair, get comfortable, and begin to listen as each of the people seated at the front get up to say something about you.

 

Instructions:

 

Get a pen and a piece of paper or open up a doc. Write down what each of these people say about you. Just write what you want them to say. Don’t judge it or get lost in whether or not it is accurate or will be accurate. The important thing is to write it down.

 

If you are married, or envision yourself in a long-term relationship, then imagine one of these people as your spouse or long-term partner. What do you want this person to say at the end of your life?

If you have children, or envision yourself with children, then imagine the second person as your grown child. What do they say about you?

If you have a long-term friend, or envision yourself with a long-term friend, then imagine the third person as that long-term friend. This can be someone that you’d think of as a best friend. What do they tell others about you?

 

Finally, if you have a co-worker that you are close to, or someone you volunteer with, then imagine what this person says about you.

After you’ve written it down condense what each person has said into 3 simple sentences. If you have 3 people, then you should have 9 sentences. If 4 people speak at your funeral, then you should have 12 sentences.

Remember, this is the end of your life – whenever you imagine yourself dying. I think I’ll die when I’m like 85, so I imagine myself as 85 in this exercise.

 

Interpretation:

 

This exercise is designed to help you identify what you think is most important in life. These are your true values. If you were to live your life in a manner that reflected these values, then you would be a happy person and you would feel like your life was well lived. If, on the other hand, you live your life in a manner that is inconsistent with these values, then you will more than likely be an unhappy person and will feel like you did not live a meaningful life.

Whenever we take on a project, it is is very smart to do what Stephen Covey recommends and “begin with the end in mind.” If you identify what you want the end to look like, then you can arrange your steps to make sure you get there. Your life is no different. Right now you are at Point A in life. This funeral exercise shows you Point B. You have to live in a manner so that your path connects Point A to Point B.

Identifying where you want to go is the first part of committing. The second part focuses on practical steps to take to make sure you stay on the right path.

 

Time Management

Boring. Boorrrinnnnng. Yes, I realize this sounds boring. Time management shouldn’t be called time management. It should be called life management. Because time = life and life = time. It is often said that time is the only non-renewable resource. Minutes, hours, days, weeks, years. They all pass by and you cannot get them back.

 

I spent a lot of time talking to parents before finally being ready to have children. Without a doubt, the biggest piece of advice given to me from every single parent I talked with was some derivative of, “Enjoy them while you can, because it goes by quickly. Blink and they’ll be grown up.” I took this to heart and have made sure to spend lots and lots of time with my kids. When I die, I want my kids to say, “He was always there for me. He deeply understood me and helped me no matter what. My Dad loved me.”

 

In order to make sure that they say that at my funeral, I need to take deliberate steps each day and week to make sure that I am in line with that goal. It is okay for me to get off track or have busy times. That isn’t a problem. But, if I want to be known to them as a close and loving father, then I need to continuously course correct and get back on track. Here is an immediate example. I’ve been working quite a bit on this book. My son came down earlier and told me he missed me. I hadn’t planned on it, but now I’m going to take them for a walk to the playground and candy store. I’m listening and I want to make sure I stay on track.

 

One very helpful tool for life management comes from the classic book First Things First (Merill, Merill, & Covey, 1999). These authors came up with a very simple matrix that shows how life management can be understood by looking at it through 4 different quadrants based on importance and urgency.

 

 

Let’s unpack each of these quadrants.

 

Quadrant 1 – Important and Urgent – These items are are time-sensitive and valuable. You have to do them. You don’t really have a choice. You want to make sure you leave time in your weekly schedule for these things to come up, because they will. If you have extra space, then you can focus on them without getting behind on other items.

Quadrant 1 example from my life – any kind of major, unexpected, problems that happen on 7 Cups. These require my full attention and cannot be ignored.

Quadrant 2 – Important, but not Urgent – This is where you want to spend most of your time in life. It keeps you on track to live a rewarding and meaningful life. For example, reading this book and working the 7 Cups program is a Quadrant II activity. It is very important that you do these items, but nobody is going to ask you to do them. They do not cry for attention, so it is very easy to continue to push them off and instead focus on more urgent, but less important items. [
Quadrant 2 examples from my life – this book, family dinners, regular exercise, 1:1’s, mindfulness.]

People that are very effective, have mastery of life, and are happy and productive, spend most of their time in Quadrant II. In keeping with our Marudian metaphor, Quadrant II time helps you become aware so that you do not stay stuck in a zombie-like trance. People that are ineffective spend very little time in Quadrant II.

Quadrant 3 – Not Important, but Urgent – These items are urgent because they are important to someone else, but not important to you. If you do not have a good handle on where you are going or what you are trying to accomplish, then it is very easy for people to slide items into your life that are urgent and important to them, but not at all in line with what you want in life. Emotion is contagious so if they act like it is urgent and important, then you can “catch” that feeling and make time for it. This Quadrant is sometimes called the Quadrant of Deception for this reason.

[Quadrant 3 examples from my life – meetings that other people want to have with me, but they are not really important for what I want to accomplish and, often times, they seem important to the other person, but most times they are not.
__]

Quadrant 4 – Not Important and Not Urgent – This is the Quadrant of Wasting Your Life. Sounds brutal, but it is true. This stuff adds nothing to you or the people you love. It just takes from you. You really want to work on minimizing the amount of time you spend in this Quadrant so you can spend more time in Quadrant II.

[_ Quadrant 4 examples from my life - reading tech and political news. I tell myself that this is important and it’ll help me, but I’ve spent hundreds of hours reading this stuff and it hasn’t helped me 99% of the time. _]

 

Ideally, you want your time to look like the figure below. The vast majority of your time is in Quadrant II. You also spend a good deal of time in Quadrant I knocking out important items in crises. You spend as little time as possible on activities in Quadrant III, because they do not belong on your life track and, finally, you do not spend any time in Quadrant IV. The distraction systems we discussed in Chapter 2 live in Quadrants III and IV. You can kill them off by spending more time in Quadrant II.

 

Image credit: http://personalexcellence.co/blog/put-first-things-first/

 

Big Rocks and Little Rocks

 

If you are like most people, then you are nodding and agreeing with what I have outlined above. All of that sounds great, but, really, how do you actually make it happen in real life? Fortunately, it is not as challenging as it seems. The Big Rocks and Little Rocks metaphor can help.

 

 

Look at the two jars above. Each jar was initially empty. There were two separate, equal, piles of sand, little rocks, and big rocks. The person that filled the jar on the left started with the sand. Then they put the little rocks in and then finally added the big rocks. The problem with this strategy was that there was not enough space to get all of the big rocks in. That is why you see them outside of the jar.

Now, look at the jar on the right. This person followed a different strategy. First, they put the big rocks in, then they put the little rocks in, and, finally, they poured the sand in. The little rocks and the sand fit around the big rocks. All of the sand, little rocks, and big rocks fit in the jar.

 

These jars are metaphors for different strategies you can take with your weekly schedule. The big rocks are your Quadrant II items. The really important things in your life like good relationships, planning, and exercise. The little rocks and the sand are the less important items in Quadrants III and IV.

 

If you look at your weekly schedule, it likely already feels way to full. However, if you take a step back and deliberately plan, you can see that if you start with the big rocks, and then put the little rocks around them, then you end up with enough time in your week to focus on the important things. This strategy, however, requires that you start with the big rocks first.

 

 

 

 

 

7 Cups Program

 

Much of what we have outlined in this book are Quadrant II activities. They are very important, but they are not urgent. Nobody is going to bust through your doors and require you to practice mindfulness. You are not going to get an alarming email that warns you to be thankful. Nobody is going to keep harassing you to get down to the soup kitchen. These are all big rocks. You’ve got to schedule them in if you want to live your life in a deliberate manner.

 

Now, let’s be real, a program in and of itself is essentially useless. There are thousands of self-help books out there. Many of them have good, proven research to back them up. Unfortunately, nobody bothers to implement what they recommend.

 

Why?

 

Because they do not provide rails to guide you and help you through the program. We all need rails to live the good life. We need tracks to keep us moving in the right direction. Like I said, life is like an escalator going down, if you are not taking 2 steps up at a time, then you’ll just find yourself sinking deeper and deeper into zombie -making distraction systems. You will not find yourself ending up where you imagined yourself in the above funeral exercise.

 

We created 7 Cups to give ourselves and other people rails. The community is comprised of kind, compassionate, and generous people that are working the 7 Cups program. They do this work via the 7 Cups website and apps (iPhone and Android).

Almost everyone starts by sharing what is on their heart (Cup 1). They receive care and and then begin to attune to love (Cup 2). As they notice love in their life, they realize that they can get more of it by deliberately practicing skills to increase calm (Cup 3). The next step involves manually taking care of the body by learning simple exercises to sleep, eat, and exercise well (Cup 4). A more advanced skill involves learning to accept what life brings you – the pain, the problems, and the negative emotions (Cup 5). This makes you stronger. It also increases your compassion and empathy which prepares you to deliberately and consistently care for others (Cup 6). Finally, you stay at it, you keep working the program, you look at your life on a week to week basis to make sure you are on track. You keep adding the big rocks in first. And, you learn to help others do the same (Cup 7).

 

We know that what we are asking you to do is not easy. We are asking you to continue to live according to your values even when it feels scary, painful or difficult. We believe that you can do it and we also know that you can’t do it alone. None of us can. We don’t want you to do it alone. Not one step. Come join us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closing Note

 

You made it! Thank you for going on this journey with us. I hope that you found this book helpful. We jam packed it with all the insights we’ve learned over the years. When we began, we told you that we believed in you, your life made sense, and that growth was not going to be easy.

 

We now believe in you even more than we initially did. You now have a map, a compass, and number of tools that will help you on your journey. You are much better prepared to help yourself and others.

Remember, growth is not easy. It is always challenging. It is never a clear, crisp, straight line. I see it as an upward spiral. We face a challenge, resolve it, and then come around to it again. It looks a little bit different, but it is often a very similar challenge.

 

When we resolve these challenges we are rewarded with a gold nugget – an answer, a new insight, or more courage. Problems help us grow. They make us stronger. We need to learn the discipline of welcoming them into our lives.

 

The 7 Cups program is designed to help you overcome these challenges and better care for others. We wrote it up so you could learn and apply the material on or off of 7 Cups. You can practice mindfulness and gratitude in your own life or via our apps. You can ask for help by leaning on trusted friends or you can lean on a listener on 7 Cups. You can love someone in your office or online in our community. Just stay focused and keep working the program.

 

We’ve said a lot in this book, but the most important lesson is that it is very important to care for vulnerable people. It helps them, it helps you, and it makes the world a better place. Authentic self-sacrificial love is especially potent. This is the good stuff, the magic stew. I’ve spent my life looking and I’ve not found anything to be stronger or more effective.

 

We’ve got to learn to tap into it collectively to solve the real challenges we face. We are doing that now on 7 Cups and it is working. I believe we can do it more effectively and at a much larger scale. If you’d like to join us, then we’d love to have you. We need your help and unique perspective.

 

Ready?

 

You can start right now.

 

 


7 Cups for the Searching Soul

This book is designed to transform your life by changing the way you view yourself and the world. It draws on proven research, healing traditions, and what we learned at 7 Cups, the world’s largest emotional support system. This book will change your life by: -Exposing the truth about how the world actually works. -Helping you understand and break free from the traps that keep you stuck -Teaching you how and why you, your behaviors, and relationships make sense. -Empowering you to move through worry and fear to the life your heart desires. -Showing you how caring for others connects you to a deeper, stronger, and more nourishing life. 7 Cups for the Searching Soul is a short, but powerful book. It is simple and jam packed with insights. It will take you out of your current life and open the door to a whole new beginning. Read it to now to change your life and the lives of those you love.

  • ISBN: 9781310091452
  • Author: SevenCups
  • Published: 2016-02-01 01:40:14
  • Words: 34726
7 Cups for the Searching Soul 7 Cups for the Searching Soul