MICHAEL VAN RIPER: Welcome, everyone. I’m Van Riper. I run the gPause, our mindfulness programs, community programs for employees here at Google. And I’m really proud and happy to have Tim Desmond here with us today.
I actually don’t know Tim all that well myself, but it’s one of the great things about our community programs is it’s not just me. There’s a group of like 200 or more Googlers that are very passionate about mindfulness, well-being, self-compassion.
And one of those Googlers actually reached out to me saying they really would recommend that we bring Tim in, and then I got to check out his stuff, and it was awesome. And I really liked that his work is around developing your skills, because just like in the work of people like Richie Davidson, they’re learning that well-being — they are skills that we can develop.
And I’m looking forward to hearing from Tim about how we can develop our self-compassion skills.
So with that, I’m going to turn over the — oh, one last thing, just for those people on the live stream. Thank you, Brandy.
Thank you, Brandy. So we have a Dory link, which I didn’t give Tim in advance, but it’s go slash, Tim’s name, Tim Desmond, dash dory. So for those of you on the live stream and you want to have us answer a question at the end, please take advantage of that go link and do that.
Thank you, Brandy.
So with that, no further ado, I will turn it over to Tim.
TIM DESMOND: Good morning, everybody.
So on November 14, 2016, just a couple of days after Donald Trump won the election, my wife woke up in the middle of the night in excruciating pain.
A trip to the ER revealed that the cancer that she’d been fighting for more than a year had spread into her abdomen, and there was a tumor that was blocking her kidney.
A few hours later, she came out of surgery, and she had a plastic tube implanted into her side that drained urine into a bag. And we were told that she was going to probably have that for the rest of her life. She still has it.
And when our 3-year-old son came into the hospital room, I had to teach him not to touch her tube. So that was a moment that I could just kind of hear despair calling me, almost audibly. Like it was basically just saying your life is shit. Everything is fucked up, and your best option is just to go cower in the corner or run.
But looking at my wife and son, it was just so clear that they needed me. And they didn’t need me to do anything in particular, they needed me to be able to be there for them. To be present, to help them feel that they’re not alone and that life is still worth living, that that beauty and joy are still possible.
But how is that? How can that happen in a moment in which everything seems like it’s going wrong? That’s what I want to talk about today.
There is a capacity that we can develop that allows us to stay human, to be able to stay present, to be able to care and stay connected in whatever situation we find ourselves in.
My teacher — I’ve been a student of a Buddhist monk and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh, for about 20 years, and my teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, the word that he uses for this capacity is mindfulness.
But at this point, I’m not sure how I feel about that word, because it’s a word that’s used so often, and used to mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.
For some people, mindfulness just means taking a deep breath or sitting on a cushion on the floor, or just sort of paying attention to your thoughts and feelings with disinterest, like you’re watching a boring TV show.
But for my teacher, for Thich Nhat Hanh, mindfulness is talking about this exact capacity. It’s talking about a way of relating to life, a way of relating especially to suffering with compassion and joy and equanimity and wisdom, a way of relating to life that allows us to be more fully alive.
In the book that I’m talking about here, I call that capacity self-compassion, to kind of highlight the element of caring, the element of compassion in it, but it doesn’t matter what you call it.
What matters is that we recognize how incredibly precious it is, that we really understand why we’re here, that we really understand what feels important to you. And for me, it’s this capacity to stay human, this capacity to stay connected. Whether it’s experiencing tragedy in your own life, whether it’s experiencing challenges at work, whether it’s successes or failures or just kind of the monotony of day-to-day life. That we can develop this capacity to be more fully alive, and to be more fully connected.
And this is a capacity that we can develop that I think of as sort of made out of some component skills. We’re going to talk about just a handful of them here, and in my workbook, we go through a lot more.
SKILL OF RECOGNIZING WHAT’S BEAUTIFUL IN LIFE
And the first skill that I want to talk about, that helps us to develop this capacity, is the skill of recognizing what’s beautiful in life.
A lot of us spend a lot of our time just paying attention to what isn’t OK in life, everything that we want to change, all the problems we’re trying to solve. So I want to talk about this skill of being able to remember, to not forget, to not ignore everything that’s beautiful in life.
In every moment of life, there are infinite reasons to suffer, and in every moment of life there are infinite reasons to be happy. And what matters is where we’re bringing our attention, what we’re paying attention to.
If we were just to take a few minutes right now, make a list of everything that you could be upset about, I don’t think anybody would run out of things to put on that list.
But if we were to take the same amount of time and make a list of everything that you could be happy about, whether it’s like the colors of a sunset or the experience of health in your body. We’d never run out of those items either.
So there is a skill that is about training ourselves to notice, to be able to pay attention to what’s beautiful in life.
Now, if we focus all of our attention on everything — so most of us go through life believing that the only way it’s possible to be happy is when all of our conditions for suffering are gone. Right?
I can be happy when I fix this problem and when I’ve achieved that goal. And then at that point, once there’s no more reasons for me to suffer, then that’s when happiness is possible. But we also know that that’s never going to happen.
There will never be a moment in life that you won’t be able to find a reason to suffer, if you’re looking for it. And that’s why it’s so important for us to develop the skill to learn how to notice what’s already good, notice what’s already beautiful in our lives that’s available right in this moment.
And as we begin to do that, we also begin to recognize everything that isn’t wrong. Like, right now, if you had a toothache, if you had pain, like a dental pain, you’d be thinking, if only I didn’t have a toothache, I’d be so happy. And you don’t have a toothache right now, and so then the question is, is it possible for you to enjoy your non-toothache right in this moment?