Archive - February 2011

The Three Teacups
SES: The Simply Elegant Solution
“Lock On” Is The Best Valentine
Happiness Is Not A Quickie: It’s A Major Life Transition

The Three Teacups

No, it’s not some 60s pop group. It’s the subject of some groundbreaking new research on mirror neurons, those wonderfully designed neural networks that help us tune in more deeply to others in a way we at ANI call “heart-to-heart identification.”

The teacup study is the work of Marco Iacoboni. His research clearly establishes the neurological basis for our ability to “track” with others, to give others the unmistakable signal to others that we are “with them,” that we “get them,” in a way that simple parroting and mimicry could never do. The firing of our mirror neurons, or not, is predictive of our capacity to connect with others at the deepest and most intimately personal levels. It signals to others that they have not only been heard, but “received” in a way that promotes an unmistakable and lasting interpersonal bond.

So what about the teacups? In Iacoboni’s study, the participants were shown 3 videos of the same action-a hand picking up a teacup. In one clip, there is just a hand and a cup-no real detail or context. In the second, the participants observed a rather crowded messy table, with bits of food, crumbs and soiled napkins. And in the third, they saw a neatly arranged tabletop, set for a special occasion. In all 3 video clips, they saw a hand reaching into the scene to pick up the teacup, in exactly the same way. The only difference in the 3 videos was the background-the context in which they saw the hand grasping the teacup.

The big question here is: did the mirror neurons in the participant’s brains fire any differently, signaling that they noticed differences in the 3 scenes? The answer turned out to be a most definite “yes.” When they were observing the first clip, with no context and just the hand and the teacup, their mirror neurons fired the least. In the second clip, with the table in disarray, their mirror neurons fired more actively. When participants viewed the 3rd scene, with the table neatly set, ready perhaps for dinner or a party, their mirror neurons fired the most. They had a “neural template” which was activated when they saw the 3rd scene. There was a pattern forged in their brain which could see the grasp of a teacup amidst a neatly set table, and fire mirror neurons to signal identification with and recognition of what was happening in ways that the others scenes could not. They had perhaps been gathered around a similarly set table, ready to drink from a cup in the course of a party. And so simply by viewing the neatly set scene at the table, in their minds, they were actually at the party.

So what’s the significance of the 3 teacups? Simply this. The study participants had an inner experience on which they could draw and with which they could identify- sitting around a table, eating and drinking. This caused their mirror neurons to fire, as if to say “Yes, I’m tuned in to this scene.  I know what this is and I can live it, dwell in the feeling of it in my brain when I see it, even though I’m not really there.”

Our personal experiences of positivity and negativity form in us these same “brain templates” which allow us to identify in deeply personal and close ways with others who express to us similar feelings and experiences. How deeply we can get in touch with the complex experience of positive or negative emotions in ourselves is the degree to which we can see them and identify with them in others.  Our mirror neurons guide us to this kind of “heart-to-heart” identification.

The mystic poet Rumi says, “Everyone sees the unseen in proportion to the clarity of his heart, and that depends upon how much he has polished it. Whoever has polished it more sees more — more unseen forms become manifest to him.”

The great gift of our mirror neurons guides us to a “greater polish” in our heart, for they transport us into a deeper state of hearing, understanding, feeling, and identifying with others as well as with ourselves. In this way, what seemed to remain hidden or “unseen” can be raised to a more loving state of “hearted knowingness.”

We carry within us a whole lifetime of deeply and richly embedded experience. The first step is developing the ability to get in touch with and draw positively upon every aspect of these experiences in ourselves- to see deeply into ourselves, to “self recognize.” And only then, when we recognize the same experiences in the words or actions of others, will our mirror neurons enable us to “reenact” in our own mind what others think and feel, heart-to-heart.

And to think it all started with the simple grasp of a teacup.


1) How do you see the “teacup” research translating into your own ability to experience “heart-to-heart identification” with others? Give us an example.

2) What tools do you have to “self recognize,” i.e., access your own deeply held thoughts and feelings in ways that promote positive “heart-to-heart” identification? Tell us your story.

3) In light of the research on mirror neurons and using your tools of positivity, comment on the quote from Rumi. How does “heart-to-heart” identification help to “polish” your heart? With yourself? With others?


SES: The Simply Elegant Solution

Elegance is in simplicity. And so it is when we are “down spiraling” into a more negative place than we are used to being. It happens to everyone when we get the first intimations of being oppressed or less free, by some burden or set of burdens that accumulate.

The solution to burden is an elegant one. In fact, it’s simply elegant.

But elegant may not be easy at the start of this until you get the “UpSpiral ball” rolling.

1. Start to pulse the feeling of love, peace, gratitude, joy or hope-whichever one is easiest for you at the time. If you can’t feel it, think it. Right in the face of the burden and the down spiraling, keep chanting one of these feeling states.

2. When you get a little bit of a handle on one of these feelings, just an edge, begin thinking about your strengths. Isn’t it funny that when you down spiral, you forget what these strengths are?  Each of your strengths should be attached to a hero that embodies that strength for you. What would your hero say about how to use this strength in this situation? Keep pulsing the feeling of gratitude (or whatever you have chosen) and think about how to use this strength.

3. Then consider 2 or 3 more of your strengths and begin to fabricate a simple plan that can be done in this 24 hour period. What is the next right step?  Just do that, no more.

Everyday your glass is not half empty, it is not half full. It is fully full and overflowing with everything you need and abundantly more. It will be empty if you focus on the problem and down spiral in worry, dread, and sense of oppression.

4. Finally, call or email someone and give them a boost for the day.

Results, guaranteed, every single time.


1) “Elegance is in simplicity.” This blog lays out a “loop” of positivity which is simple and elegant-pulse positive emotion, go to a strength, develop a simple strengths-based next “right step.”  How have you used this “positive loop” in your own life? Tell us the story.

 2) What heroes do you have in your life? What strength(s) do they embody? How have you used your heroes to remind you of your own unique strengths? Give us an example.

3) #4 in the blog suggests that you give someone a “boost.” At ANI, we call this tool “GAB.” (Give A Boost) Describe a recent example of a boost you gave to someone. What motivated you to do so? How do you give YOURSELF a boost?  What strengths do you have that supported you in doing so? Tell us your story.

“Lock On” Is The Best Valentine

“Lock On” is the term used when a fighter jet has locked into position a target that is being pursued, so that when the missile is fired, it will automatically be guided to find its target. That is something like what we want to use the mirror neurons in the brain to do, only for much more constructive purposes. “Lock-On” means you are in tracking mode, that you are tracking the conversation of another person so you are zeroing in on what they are experiencing. Learning to “track” a person means to closely follow what they’re saying, “to track them.”  Doing so gives people the great gift of being really heard. We want most to be understood.

The basis of the UpSpiraLife group is “heart-to-heart” identification that reduces resistance by being heard, for the purpose of moving higher in the UpSpiral. Heart-to-heart means the attempt to listen, “hear” and to get some feeling for what the other person is saying. This is more than polite listening and nodding your head, although that’s a part of it. You are getting the larger picture of what another person is saying, and identifying with something in your own experience. Empathy is probably the word used most to express this intention, but this is a little more and different from empathy.

Empathy is the capacity to feel what another person is feeling. Heart-to-heart identification is more like, “I hear where you’re coming from and I understand.”  Here you are also listening to the content of what someone is saying so that you can “get it” and “be there with them” in their experience. This is the capacity that creates great friendships.



1) How do you use the power of your focus to “track” with others? Give us an example.

2) What “cues” do you pick up from others that you are being “heard and understood?” Cite some examples.

3) Dr. Larkin draws a distinction between simple “empathy” and “heart to heart identification.” Comment on this distinction and give us an example from your personal experience. What tools do you have that support you in going beyond empathy to identification?


Happiness Is Not A Quickie: It’s A Major Life Transition

Somehow, we’ve gotten to the place where we think the pursuit of happiness is something frivolous that we might have time to get to someday. As this area of research grows and more and more work is done in happiness studies, there are those critics who fear that their critical nature, so necessary, they reason, to really see “reality,” is being eroded. There is the attempt to dampen down and discredit happiness as though it were never written into the Constitution, not just as a desirable state of mind, but as a rightful pursuit that is a part of human liberty and dignity.

It is a flagrant hypocrisy to watch the struggle in Egypt for freedom and to think that essentially that same struggle isn’t at issue in a land of freedom where happiness is viewed as a luxury, a bit frivolous in these economics times. The tyrant here is not a 30 year old dictatorship. It is the tyranny of ignorance and our love affair with suffering. The tyranny of ignorance that refuses to demand governments dedicated to well-being is far more frightening that an 80 year old dictator, gasping for his last breath of oppressive leadership. More shameful is a country that does not want to find a way to give basic health care to all it citizens, at any cost, much less live up to its obligation to insure the pursuit of happiness for every single one of its citizens as a basic human right.

I want to assure you that this new emergence of the science of positivity and the pursuit of happiness is anything but a quickie, whether you pursue it personally or as we pursue it globally. It is essentially about freedom and oppression, and the struggle in Egypt pales in comparison to this one.

This isn’t a “quickie” we’re talking about here folks. It is about changing your life so you can make the changes that lead to finding a big part of your destiny. Or not. You can view all this business about happiness as some quick fix that is not nearly intellectual enough, or you can wake up to the science it has become, its promises for health and well-being, and its capacity to lessen to the number of pills you have take. Someday, maybe even in your own lifetime, your children will be educated to play to their strengths rather than correct their weaknesses and be filled with anxiety when they fall short of being able to do so.

Actually this happiness business is really about transition. It is about the great American bind of being so stuck in “black and white,” “this or that” legalisms, or so wrapped in a finding the right relationship or in making one’s mark and being productive that we haven’t stopped long enough to realize that we are culturally in the midst of a vast transition. It is this deep transition of meaning in which this concept of “happiness” emerges like never before. The god-punished fundamentalists can't stand it, nor is it complicated enough for the liberals. Charlie Rose doesn’t know whether to do programs about it or let Oprah handle it on her new network. Oprah will win.

The new science of positivity, this science of happiness, has never existed in the history of civilizations as it exists today, nor has civilization existed in this transition needing it yet so willing to write in off as a “quickie” fix, a yellow circle with happy smile.

Happiness is not a quickie. The disciplines that we research, discover, and teach are not quickie solutions. We are changing neuropathways in the brain that have been developed over a lifetime and are the real tyrants that tell us that we do not have the right to the pursuit of happiness. This change is not just cultural. It marks a change in evolution in our brains and in the “wi-fi” of the “global brain.”

But we do have the right to the pursuit, and it’s not a quickie. It is a massive transition in consciousness taken one day at a time. If you wait for our educational and health institutions to teach you to do this, you will die waiting. They can’t catch up with our lifetimes of “learned” suffering, with this new way, as hard as they try. But you can decide to do whatever is necessary to engage in a consistent process of becoming happy.  And if you think becoming happy is a “quick fix” or a band aid to “really, really, really getting at the real problem,” get off it. You’re wrong, just plain wrong, and you’re getting left behind in the transition rather than on to the next stage of life and global culture.

Share your thoughts!

1) This blog describes our “love affair with suffering.”  What does this mean to you? Give us an example of how you have used an ANI tool to move away from this thinking. What was the tool?  How did you use it to move yourself ahead in the UpSpiral?  Tell us your story.

2) How has your experience and use of our work supported you in a period of transition in your life? What tool(s) have you used? Give us a specific example of how our work has helped you “navigate” a life transition.

3) “Happiness is not a quickie…it is essentially about freedom and oppression.” Comment on this selection from this blog. What does it mean to you? How have you experienced this truth?

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