Knowing This About Human Psychology Can Save Your Life

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No Bystander Help for Murder Victim

In March 1964, Catherine Genovese was killed on her street in a late-night attack as she returned from work in Queens New York.

Although in a city as big as New York, many homicides take place, this was not an ordinary homicide.

For more than half an hour 38 law-abiding, respectable citizens in Queens watched a killer chase and stab a woman in three different attacks on the same street.

Twice the sudden turning on of their bedroom lights and their voices interrupted the killer and scared him off. But each time he returned, sought her out and stabbed her repeatedly.

Not even a single person called the police during the attack. One witness called police after the woman was dead.

Why Wouldn’t Good People Help? A Cold Society?

The investigators and the detectives were shocked and baffled. Why did so many good people fail to act under those circumstances?

Did the observers fear to get involved in the situation? Were they afraid?

It doesn’t seem to be the case. All it takes is a simple anonymous phone call.

Could that be a city-caused apathy? There is a notion that hardships of modern life make us cold.

When you are surrounded by so many people all the time, to prevent them from interfering with you too much, you isolate yourself. You become indifferent.

Was that the real reason why Catherine Genovese didn’t get help?

Although it may seem like this is not really an isolated case. Such cases happen with more frequency than you may realize.

Reasons Why Bystanders Don’t Help….Sometimes

Psychologists think there are two reasons why a bystander is unlikely to help in an emergency situation when there are other bystanders that are present.

Notice that bystanders tend to not help only when there are other bystanders that are present. This phenomenon has to do with a group of people.

Dilution of Personal Responsibility

The first likely reason is that when you witness something in a group setting, your personal responsibility gets diluted. You think that perhaps someone else will call police or emergency. Perhaps someone else has already called.

Everyone thinks someone else will help or has helped and no one helps.

Uncertainty About Situation, Is It Really an Emergency?

The second reason is a little bit tricky. It involves uncertainty about the situation.

In situations when you come across someone laying on the floor, could that be a heart attack victim or just a drunk person sleeping?

When you notice people quarreling, could that be an assault requiring police intervention or just a household spat where intervention is unwelcome.

In such situations of uncertainty, the natural tendency is to look around and look at the actions of others for clues. You try to learn from the actions of other witnesses in determining what to do next about the situation at hand.

What may end up happening is again, everyone in the group is looking at the others for clues and they all may end up making the wrong judgment.

In a research study, a student who pretended to be having an epileptic seizure was helped 85 percent of the time when only one bystander was present but only 31 percent of the time when there were five bystanders present.

The point is that there are many layers to human psychology. There are multiple invisible forces that dictate your behavior at any given instance.

At times, your behavior may appear very irrational on the surface.

More importantly, how would you prevent yourself to be a victim who doesn’t get help if you ever found yourself in such a situation?

Given the insight we have in possible reasons why bystanders may not help, you can try to address the core problems.

There are two problems here. One is that of dilution of responsibility. Everyone thinks others may have already done something about the situation and no one does anything.

One is that of dilution of responsibility. Everyone thinks others may have already done something about the situation and no one does anything.

The second problem is that of the uncertainty. The group of bystanders can be uncertain whether it is really an emergency situation or not.

How to Save Yourself In an Emergency

Following is what you can specifically do to address both of the above-mentioned problems.

  • Isolate one individual from the group/crowd of bystanders.
  • Stare at the person.
  • While staring, point directly at the person and nobody else, removing all doubts about who you are pointing to.
  • While pointing at the person, speak to the person.
  • Be very specific about what you say to the person.
  • For example, “Hey you sir, in the red jacket, I need help. Call ambulance.” Or whatever is appropriate for the situation. But be very specific.

How Not to Be an Apathetic Bystander

Here is where awareness can help. The real problem is that you easily become subject to unconscious urges.

From the point of view of awareness, it can trump the unconscious behavior of becoming paralyzed under uncertain circumstances and seeking social proof.

When you find yourself in a group of bystanders and uncertain about the emergency, you don’t make assumptions.  You don’t look at others, you go and take action.

You go and find out whether the person laying on the ground is just a drunk sleeping or a person having a stroke or heart attack. You give the person the benefit of a doubt.

 

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Reduce Overwhelm by Getting Grounded In the Body

Young woman meditating in a forest sitting on a wooden floor. Zen, meditation, relax, spiritual health, healthy breathing

Modern life is complex. You are extremely busy wading through the complexity of the life.

For many of you, it can be hard to cope with the realities of the life. There are lots of responsibilities that are there upon your shoulders.

You feel overwhelmed. Life also becomes very boring, monotonous, uninteresting and more painful.

The Disembodied Living

What ends up happening a lot is you get caught up. You get caught up in the rat race. You get caught up with the business of the life.

When you get caught up, very frequently the worrying thoughts catch up with you. The anxiety catches up with you.

This is the disembodied living.

You live mainly in thoughts, emotions, and mind states. You also call this living in your head.

It is the most unstable form of living. It is very fickle.

Of course, it can easily become very painful once you get caught up in worrying or anxiety causing thoughts.

So what can you do?

There are some choices that are available to you. You may realize this or not, but the choices are out there.

Following are the four possibilities or ways of living.

  • Living in the thoughts, emotions, and mental state
  • Living in the physical sensations
  • Living in the breath
  • Living in the body

They are listed in order of progressively increasing stability.

Living In the Head

When you live in the mental world, where thoughts and emotions predominate you can easily get worried, anxious and depressed. You can easily get hijacked by emotions.

This is the default state of living. You start out here. We all start out here. This comes naturally to you.

Living with mental states means identifying with mental states. Getting lost in thoughts and emotional reactions.

Living In the Physical Sensations

The next more stable state of living is living with physical sensations. What does it mean?

It means becoming aware of physical sensations. There are almost always lots of physical sensations that are present throughout the body.

They are available to pay attention to. For example, you can feel the bottom of your feet touching the floor or the shoes.

Many such sensations are constant and when they are constant the mind tunes them out for its favorite activity, which is thinking or getting lost in thoughts.

But when you pay attention and feel the contact at the bottom of your feet, it doesn’t give you anxiety.

When you feel your buttocks pressing against the chair. Or you feel your back pressing against the chair or a couch it doesn’t give you anxiety.

Either you sit, stand or lie down, some extension of earth hold you and this holding can be felt as a sensation of touch. There is a certain kind of stability to this sensation.

It is not fickle, it doesn’t go away that easily. In itself it is natural.

You can say that it is a form of distraction away from your thoughts. That is true, you can say that. We just live so much in our heads you can use many types of distractions.

But it is not a mere distraction. Physical sensations are very much part of your reality as are your thoughts.

It is just that your mind judges them to be unworthy or inconsequential. But they can be real stalwart allies once you learn to pay attention to them.

You mind is not a very reliable source of good judgments. Because instantaneously judging everything is its nature.

And when you judge things out of habit, you can’t always do justice. You mind is more adept at passing quick and dirty judgments that help it wade through the life.

A quick and dirty judgment that makes you feel certain in a moment, may not be a very judgment in the long run.

Living In the Breath

Next type of living is the living with the breath. It is a more stable form of living compared to living with the physical sensations.

Primarily because the breath is the life force. It never goes away. Thoughts come and go.

Physical sensations also come and go, although not as fickle as thoughts. But still physical sensations are more dyadic they change a lot.

Whereas breath never leaves. Of course, breath is not stagnant and static.

It has its own internal dynamism and rhythm, but still it is always there. Not only there, you cannot live without it.

You can live without thoughts, you can live without physical sensations, but you cannot live without breath.

Not only that, the breath has the power to sway the mind. By properly regulating breathing you can calm down your mind.

When you breathe out it relaxes you, so by extending your exhalations you can relax you mind.

But living with the breath is the next higher level of stability because breath is always there. You can count on your breath.

Of course living with the breath means paying attention to the breath.

Living In the Body

The ultimate form of stable living comes from living with the body. The body is the primary basis of our existence.

Everything is there because there is the body. Even what we call mind, seems to be housed in the body.

But still we tend of disembodied. We tend to live as if the body is just not there.

It is usually all about the mind. Mind dominates.

You tend to take the body for granted. But the body can provide a solid foundation which unwavering.

Your thoughts or emotions could be completely wild and crazy and can give you a lot of grief. But the body is always there available at the moment.

So how do you live with the body? You do that by paying attention to the body.

There are several ways of paying attention to the body.

  1. You can use the sense of seeing and visually look at the body.
  2. You can use the sense of touch to feel the parts of the body.
  3. You can use internal sense (interoception) to feel the presence of the body, even with the eyes closed.

The 1st option is a legitimate way of paying attention to the body. But there is a problem with this option.

You are so used to looking at the visual objects. And your mind has a tendency to start thinking about them as soon as you take a look.

There are more chances of you falling back to living in your head with option 1.

Also, as you can see that option 2 is really living with the physical sensations as we saw earlier. In a sense, living with the physical sensations can be a doorway to living with the body.

But here the recommendation is to feel the presence of the body using the internal sense.

Although it may sound unfamiliar to begin with, it is not that difficult. You can do an experiment.

Close your eyes for a moment. Even with your eyes closed you can feel the presence of the body.

If you are sitting in a chair, you can feel the body present sitting in a chair, even with the eyes closed.

That is interoception. The internal sense.

This sense of the presence of the body is the extreme form of stability. This sense never goes away, throughout your life.

That is your body, always there, always present.

The mind can go all over the place. It can think about the future or think about the past.

But the body is always in the present moment. We haven’t devised ways for the body to not be in the present moment yet.

Living with the body does not imply that body is immune to any unpleasantness or discomfort. Of course, at times, the body could be hurting or aching.

And if it is aching a lot, it could be impossible to live in the body. And that is okay.

Living with the body doesn’t mean always be able to live with the body.

The point is that even when the body is hurting living in the body provides more stability than living in the head.

Let me explain.

When you experience pain. There is the internal resistance to the pain as it is an unpleasant sensation.

But typically as soon as you experience the pain, your mind starts catastrophizing. It immediately runs through the worst case scenario.

What if the pain doesn’t stop. What if I need a surgery. And on and on.

As soon as you start living in the mind, your suffering exacerbates. But more you chose to live with the physical sensations or the sense of the body, less the suffering.

A Practice to Ground Yourself

Following steps are for a meditation practice that you can use to learn to live in the body.

  • Settling into a comfortable posture.
  • Placing your hand wherever it feels comfortable.
  • Closing your eyes if you prefer or keeping them open with a soft gaze in the front.
  • Keeping the back upright could be helpful.
  • You are really looking for a balance between relaxation and vigilance. A place where you are not overly stiff nor overly relaxed.
  • Take a couple of intentional deep breaths.
  • As you exhale, see if you can have a sense of letting go of concerns and worries. Give it a try if you are unable to, that is okay.
  • Then going back to normal breathing.
  • Now bring your awareness to the bottom of your feet. Becoming aware of the sensations of contact or pressure wherever your feet are in contact with floor, shoe or bed.
  • As best as you can, continue to feel the sensations in your feet.
  • Now if you can, expand your awareness to include physical sensations in your hands. Perhaps hands are placed in your lap or on your knees. Then feeling the sensations of pressure, touch or contact in your palms.
  • Continue to be aware of sensations both in your feet and your hands/palms for a few more moments.
  • Now expand awareness to include the sense of the whole body. You are still feeling the sensations in your feet and palms. But now you are also feeling the whole sense of the body, present and either sitting in a chair, standing up or laying in the bed.
  • If it is easier, you can drop the sensations in your feet and palms and just continue to have awareness of the body as a whole.
  • If mind wanders, then whenever you notice, bring yourself gently back to the sense of the whole body. As many times as needed.

Summary

Living in the head is the most unstable form of living. It makes us more prone to suffering. Still, you tend to live here a lot as it comes naturally.

Living in the body is the most stable form of living. The body is always rooted in its firmness. Always in the present moment.

You can learn to live in the body to be more grounded, stable, equanimous and peaceful.

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How to Aspire and Not Miss Out On Life

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Your aspirations could be the driving force that makes you work hard. For some, the dreams are the only hope and only reason they are alive.

Yet, aspirations are double edged swords. You can easily wait for your dream to materialize and waste your life while it never happens.

You might end up missing out on what is important in your life.

There is a way you can still have dreams and hopes but not miss out on what is valuable to you.

The practice of meditation can help you make it happen. It provides you an opportunity to relate differently to your goals.

It is through learning to relate differently to life goals, you can learn to be present for your life.

First lets get the connection between meditation and goals.

Is There a Goal to Meditation?

Does the process of meditation have a goal? Some people would argue it doesn’t.

But it does have a goal. Meditation is really mind training.

It is not an aimless practice. You work with different faculties and attitudes of mind to develop them further.

In the beginning, the goal is to train your awareness.

In order to achieve the goal, you can use an anchor. Typically the anchor is the breath, as in breathing meditation.

The goal of the meditation is to focus on your breath (rest your awareness on the breath).

Drop All Your Goals When Meditating

But paradoxically, many teachers will ask you to try and drop all goals as you practice meditation. More specifically you should try to not strive or push yourself towards the goal of focusing on your breath.

Why should we do that? Is there really a goal or not? Is it just being wishy-washy?

There may be some value in approaching your meditation practice in such a paradoxical fashion. Let’s dig deeper to figure out why.

The ultimate purpose of any meditation practice is to train your mind. You typically start with training one of the faculties of your mind, the awareness.

You train awareness by picking an anchor.  E.g. the breath and practicing awareness of the breath.

As you practice awareness of the breath, you realize it is not at all easy to achieve the goal in such a practice. As your mind keeps wandering.

You may also encounter many other ‘distractions’ prevents you from achieving your goal, which is practicing the awareness of the breath (focusing on the breath).

You Are Very Good at Striving and Pushing Yourself

We are a goal driven species. Pursuing goals come naturally to you. What you are good at is striving to achieve goals. You tend to push our self really hard in order to achieve goals.

This attitude of striving or pushing can be effective in getting us close to our goals. But if your life were to turn into a series of goal pursuits, that would set you up for a lot of disappointment and the heartache.

By default, you approach goals as ends. You employ different means to reach the goal which is an end.

But that is not the only way to approach goals. There is another way of going about goals.

Goal as a Means and Not an End

Here you flip the goals upside down. In this alternate approach goals are not ends, but rather means. You still set goals but not something out there in the future to be achieved.

Here goals are just tools, means and the end is always the present moment. The end is always the now of your life.

Because there is nothing out there, for certain. There are just thoughts about what could be out there. What is certain is your life happening in this moment.

The journey is all you have. The journey of ups and downs.

And sometimes the present moment could be terrible with a lot of suffering. And that is the nature of life. Some moments are pleasant, some unpleasant and rest neutral.

You cannot expect all moments to be pleasant or unpleasant. At least, half the time things are not so bad in the present moment.

It is very common for the following scenario to play out in your life.

Aspiring Student Missing Out on Play

When you are in school, you aspire either to be a 4.0 GPA student, or you aspire to be a professional athlete. You prepare and focus on something out there which you haven’t achieved yet.

If your goal is an academic one, you skip play. If your goal is sports, you skip studies. Either way, you skip time with the loved ones.

When you reach the end of the school, you want to go to the ivy league or the college sports league. Again you sacrifice in order to prepare.

Although not many kids get into ivy leagues and college sports leagues. So you settle with what you get. Once in a college, again there is a new “out there” on the horizon.

Aspiring Job Seeker Settling With the Job

The dream job, or the dream draft. You get to work again. And after a few years of grueling work, most of you settle again.

It doesn’t end there. Then it is the promotion. Then it is retirement. It is your whole life.

What ends up happening is, you are always waiting for the next “out there” which you think will make you happy and content.

Most of the time, you don’t get what you aspire and you grudgingly settle. But even if you get what you wanted, the happiness and the satisfaction is only momentary.

The unsatisfactoriness kicks in again, as the new “out there” appears on the horizon. You end up not living your life, you end up chasing a mirage most of the time.

A Normal Guy Missing Out on Life

You only regret when you near your death. One of the worst regrets of dying is not being able to spend time with the loved ones.

I don’t mean to convey you should not engage in the activity you really enjoy, e.g. sports. Also being able to sacrifice, in itself is not necessarily a bad trait.

The problem is when such an attitude of waiting for “something out there” becomes the norm. That is when you start really missing out on life wholesale.

The Destination Is the Journey

This is why the goals as means could be a very useful skill you can learn.

Once you master this skill,

  • you can still aspire to score well academically, you can still aspire to become the best sports person or
  • you can still aspire to become the best sports person,
  • you can still aspire for that promotion.
  • But your life doesn’t depend upon that. The goal is just a tool. Your destination is the journey.
  • You practice awareness much more. You are living in the moment.
  • You take the time to reflect on what is meaningful to you. You prioritize your life so that you allocate time doing activities that you meaningful to you.
  • You notice the urge to keep up with people around you, but you don’t give into that urge. You now know that you have a choice when it comes to your emotions and inner drives.
  • You can set limits. You can easily say “no”.
  • You can find contentment in whatever you already possess. You don’t obsess about losing things.
  • You realize, the nature of reality is such that you can lose things anytime.
  • You can lose your life anytime. But you can take all of that with a certain equanimity.

Learning the Skill of Goals as Means

How do you learn this skill? Meditation is a perfect opportunity to practice the skill of goals as means.

Things to keep in mind for practice goals as means during meditation.

  • The ‘goal’ is still to orient awareness to the chosen anchor for the meditation and sustain it over there.
  • You affirm that this is not the end goal. It is just a tool. Means you can relax a bit.
  • You can also affirm it to yourself, that it is okay if your mind wanders a lot and you are not able to focus so much on the chosen anchor.
  • The real goal of meditation is to be present or be aware. It is to be with your experience no matter what type of experience you have.
  • You can expect to have some meditation sessions where it is easy for you to focus and others where it is not at all easy to focus.

Summary

You need goals.

Goals can make you lose sight of what really matters in life. As you always find yourself chasing the goals.

Goals can be ends, but can also be means to being present.

When you prioritize being present over striving for some outcome different than what you have, you are less likely to miss out on what is important.

Meditation can help you strike the balance between aspirations and reality.

 

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