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Pixar’s Inside Out, and the Simple Healing Power of Empathy

Pixar’s been making first class movies for twenty years, and Inside Out may be their best yet. It contains a beautiful and succinct example of the simple healing power of empathy.

Inside Out 1 The movie mostly takes place inside the head of Riley, an adolescent girl. Her major emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust are personified. Sadness is the inadvertent villain, accidentally tainting Riley’s memories with sorrow as she tries to adjust to her family’s cross country move.

Joy and Sadness get sucked into the maze-like memory banks of Riley’s brain, and meet Bing Bong – Riley’s forgotten imaginary friend. Sadness, Joy and Bing Bong witness the destruction of Riley’s inner childhood world. Bing Bong Inside Out 2sees his beloved wagon Rocket get dumped into a pile of junk, and bulldozed off a cliff, into the deep canyon of unrecoverable memories.

Bing Bong sits on the edge of the cliff, stunned. Joy approaches him, and tries to keep their plan of action on track:

Joy: Hey, it’s gonna be okay! We can fix this! We just need to get back to headquarters! Which Inside Out 3way back to the train station…

Bing Bong doesn’t move.

Bing Bong: I had a whole trip planned for us.

Inside Out 4Joy doubles down on positivity.

Joy: Hey… who’s ticklish, huh?? Here comes the tickle monster!

Bing Bong doesn’t respond.

Joy: Hey Bing Bong – look at this! (makes a Inside Out 5face)

Still nothing.

Joy: Oh – here’s a fun game: you point to the train station, and we all go there! Won’t that be fun?? Come on, let’s go to the train station…

Inside Out 6Sadness quietly approaches Bing Bong, and sits next to him.

Sadness: I’m sorry they took your rocket. They took something that you loved. It’s gone. Forever.

Joy: Sadness – don’t make him feel worse!

Inside Out 7Sadness: Sorry.

Bing Bong: It’s all I had left of Riley.

Sadness: I bet you and Riley had great adventures.

Bing Bong: Oh – they were wonderful. Once we flew back in time. We had breakfast twice that day.

Joy: Sadness!

Inside Out 8Sadness: Sounds amazing. I bet Riley liked it.

Bing Bong: Oh, she did. We were best friends.

He starts to cry.

Sadness: Yeah. It’s sad.

He bursts into tears (made of candy), and Inside Out 9hugs Sadness.

Joy groans in exasperation.

Bing Bong recovers. And gets up.

Bing Bong: I’m okay now. Come on. The train station is this way.

Inside Out 10Joy is astonished. She approaches Sadness.

Joy: How did you do that.

Sadness: I don’t know. He was sad, so I listened to what…

Bing Bong: Hey! There’s the train!

Inside Out 11Joy is an exaggerated personification of Enneagram Type Seven – the Enthusiast. Her go-to strategy is to focus on the positive. Sevens, Nines and Twos are part of the
Positivity Triad. In situations of difficulty, look on the bright side! Cheer up!

Sadness is an exaggerated personification of Enneagram Type Four – the Individualist. Her first impulse is to acknowledge the real emotion of the moment. Fours, Sixes and Eights are part Inside Out 13of the Emotional Realness Triad. In situations of difficulty – speak honestly with me. Don’t hide or sugarcoat anything.

Joy is certainly important. And in many situations, it takes going through one’s pain to reach it. Covering it up, distracting from it – these are short term solutions, which might continue one’s entire life.

Also notice that Sadness didn’t try to solve Bing Bong’s problem. She doesn’t suggest a way to retrieve the wagon, or get a new one. Ones, Threes and Fives are part of the Efficiency Triad. In situations of difficulty – solve the problem.

And yet, it’s being emotionally real that solves the problem.

Empathy is startlingly easy and powerful.

Brene Brown provides an insightful observation, saying that “rarely if ever does an empathic response begin with ‘at least’”:

“I had a miscarriage.”

“At least you know you can get pregnant.”

“My marriage is falling apart.”

“At least you have a marriage.”

“John’s getting kicked out of school.”

“At least Sara is an A student.”

Providing empathy helps someone in pain experience what they need to – a necessary step for healing.

zebra buckingAnimals have been observed dealing with stress and trauma in this same way. A zebra who’s just outrun a cheetah will be filled with cortisol and adrenaline. That zebra will then shake its whole body, ridding itself of its pent up energy. The stress is released, and the zebra goes about its day, without clinging to its recent life-threatening experience, or suffering post-traumatic flashbacks later.

No matter our type, no matter what strategy we incline towards, we can choose empathy when someone has suffered a loss or is going through a difficult time. Turning into our sadness doesn’t mean we’ll get stuck in it. Strangely enough it’s plunging into that bottomless pit that allows us to reemerge, strengthened and healed.

The Social Instinct Brought Us Into the Digital Age

steve-jobs-Steve-wozniakThe central myth of American culture, according to David Simon, is the transcendent individual: there are great men and women who pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, and achieve greatness through their autonomy, courage, intelligence, strength and perseverance.

It’s an image particularly associated with science and technology: the lone genius, an anti-social geek, working in his garage in spite of the rejection of the mediocre masses, and then springing his brilliance upon the world and changing everything.

The problem is, it isn’t true.

the Innovators book cover  Walter Isaacson has built a career writing biographies of great individuals: Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin. He swings in the opposite direction for his newest book: The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.

It’s an excellent read, and I highly recommend it. Here’s the short version: it was pretty much all groups.

There have certainly been visionaries and geniuses, but they worked with people who had complementary abilities. Those who were isolated, or bad at working with others, made very limited contributions to the information revolution.

In Enneagram terms, this is the Social Instinct at work. The healthy aspect of this instinct is the ability to tune in to others, to work with others, to feel comfortable with others and appreciate how people can work together and bring out the best in each other.

microsofts-early-daysA few examples of this from the book:

When Bell Labs moved their headquarters to New Jersey, they had their various buildings connected by long corridors, specifically to encourage chance meetings between people working in different departments. Steve Jobs replicated this when redesigning Apple’s headquarters.

As Atari exploded with the popularity of Pong, they instituted parties every Friday, with beer, pot-smoking and skinny dipping. Company founder Nolan Bushnell said “We found out our employees would respond to having a party for hitting quotas as much as having a bonus.”

Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore – co-founders of Intel – worked at cubicles identical to those of anyone else in the company. They didn’t have reserved parking spots – no one did. Noyce’s personnel director and wife said “There were no privileges anywhere. We started a form of company culture that was completely different than anything had been before. It was a culture of meritocracy.” This was a very deliberate contrast to the top-down culture of corporate America.

Grace Hopper – a foul mouthed programmer of one of the first computers – swore like a sailor at Richard Bloch – her hardware engineer partner – developing a “pirate crew camaraderie” which became part of the culture of coders, who may be prickly but ultimately value their collaborators as allies.

When researcher Paul Baran was asked who invented the Internet, he answered:

The process of technological development is like building a cathedral. Over the course of several hundred years, new people come along and each lays down a block on top of the old foundations, each saying “I built a cathedral.” Next month another block is placed atop the previous one. Then comes along an historian who asks, “Well, who built the cathedral?” Peter added some stones here, and Paul added a few more. If you are not careful, you can con yourself into believing that you did the most important part. But the reality is that each contribution has to follow onto previous work. Everything is tied to everything else.

team of programmersWe have a strong desire to look good. What could look better than saying “I built that cathedral. Yes, me. Just me.”? But if you were raised by at least one other person, if you learned language, if you wear clothes that you didn’t weave, and eat food you didn’t grow or hunt, then you’re part of the social continuum.

We will continue to learn to live on this planet inasmuch as we can live and work with each other.

Fear of Syrian Refugees and Unhealthy Six-ness

In the wake of the Paris attacks, there’s been a whole lot of unhealthy Six-ness in public discourse.

Type Six is the Loyalist, the Defender, the Devil’s Advocate. The ruling passion of Six is fear, or anxiety. A stressed-out Six’s ego keeps them fearful and suspicious. Danger lurks around every corner! Look out!!

American political discourse is rife with unhealthy Six-ness. There’s an us and them mentality. Those other guys are evil, and worse yet, they’re unified! They’re taking action to destroy everything good! My side needs to circle the wagons, now!!!

Turfed out Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to leverage this fear of outsiders in the recent Canadian election, referencing “old stock Canadians” (us) and making an issue out of Muslim women wearing a niqab during their citizenship ceremony (them).

Gumball metaphorNow fear has gotten back into the driver’s seat for many of us. Some are fearful of allowing Syrian refugees into Canada or the US, denouncing politicians who’ve promised to do so. Implicit in this fear is the belief that these refugees, and muslims in general, are terrorists. Or at least ten per cent of them are, anyway. Keep them out!!

Enneagram author Russ Hudson said that American culture needs a strong dose of healthy Six. And this doesn’t just refer to those of us who identify with Six as our Enneagram type. We all have that energy. We can all find the Six in us.

While an unhealthy Six is cynical, mean-spirited, prejudiced, and highly positional, a healthy Six knows that everyone counts and has equal weight. A unhealthy Six will view an entire pack of “others” as uniform and threatening, but a healthy Six can see the difference between individuals and know that blanket statements that fan the flames of fear don’t give an accurate picture at all. The healthy Six sees the actual people struggling under the heel of oppression, and rushes in to defend and protect them.

Classifications separating people are manufactured. George Carlin (a famous Six) pointed this out in his book Brain Droppings, when he said “Everyone is from somewhere else. All people are refugees, immigrants, or aliens. If there were natives anywhere, they would be people who still live in the Great Rift Valley in Africa where the human species arose. Everyone else is just visiting.”

Extremism – in both religion and politics – is born from fear. It’s an unflattering truth to face that reactionary  Canadians and Americans are operating from the same mentality as the terrorists they’re afraid of.

Our instinct to fear and distrust others developed to help us survive in a different time. It’s regressive to adopt it now.

We can rise above this way of being. We can thank the fearful vigilance in us for its concern, and act with clarity and humanitarian compassion that extends to all people fleeing harm and oppression.

The Trick I Found To Meditate Regularly

Basically every teacher I know recommends daily meditation as a personal practice. Even if you only do it for two minutes. Even if you aren’t good at it.

It’s really, really hard to stick to it.

No matter that there are studied, proven benefits. No matter that it’s easy enough to do.

That you can do it anywhere. Any time. For free.

The mind resists. The ego resists. With everything it has.

But I figured out a trick.

I use an app. Insight Timer, by name. It costs three and a half bucks.

There are many meditation apps out there. I’ve had success with this one because of three things it does.

First of all, it offers eighty-some guided meditations, ranging from one minute to an hour. There are well known teachers (Eckhart Tolle, Thich Nhat Hahn) and lesser known ones. They’re on a variety of topics. Some have new age music in the background, most don’t.

Let me just point out that I’m terrrrrrrible at meditating. I’ve got monkey mind, the whole time. That’s exactly why a guided meditation helps. A gentle phrase every now then, like “noticing the silence” – followed by silence – brings me into the moment.

Pretty soon my mind wanders again. Part of many of the guided meditations is the teacher saying that the mind will wander. And that’s okay. That’s what it does.

And hearing that brings me back to the moment.

And it wanders again. And something comes up. A voice. A bell. A prompt to take a deep, full breath.

And I’m back.

Another way it helps: it keeps track of how much I’m meditating. You get a gold star for ten consecutive days. You get a green star for five gold stars. A pink for five greens.

It’s silly… but it works. Having a simple though meaningless goal helps me remember to keep up the practice daily.

And of course, I’ve missed days. I’ve forfeited gold stars.

The third thing it does is let me know how many other people are meditating using the app right now. When you open the app you see a world map, with dots, and a total. As I write this, 472 people are meditating, by the way.

When you complete your meditation it says “Congratulations, you just meditated with 472 people.”

You can see who, and where, by clicking “community.”

Avi in Israel completed 5 minutes of meditation.

Annette in Kelowna, Canada completed 45 minutes of meditation.

Roberta in Mashpee, MA completed a guided meditation: Simply Being – Guided Meditation for Relaxation & Presence (Mary Maddux)

Enrique in Guayaquil Ecuador completed 30 minutes of meditation.

Ingrid in Malmo completed a guided meditation: Vipassana (Basic) Meditation (Tara Branch)

You can reach out to people whose profiles you see, or people you know, and friend them.

You can refine the community feed to show what your friends are up to. You can see who’s nearby. Who’s using it right now.

If you don’t know anyone on there, you do now. You can friend me: TJ from Vancouver. If you check out your “friends” feed, you’ll see when I last did a guided meditation, and which one. And vice versa.

It’s easy to disdain going with the herd. Our culture trumpets the value of individuality. I’m particularly prone to this. And there are many examples of groups bringing out the worst in people.

But we can draw strength from each other. We can help each other up. We can give each other quiet encouragement to continue with a valuable, healing regular practice.

How to Devise a Personal Practice

So you know your Enneagram type. And you want to engage in a pracitice. Where do you start?

A first step, described in many Enneagram books, is catching yourself in the act as you go about your day, and your habitual reactions assert themselves.

Another simple practice is meditation. Even five minutes a day, paying attention to your breath as best you can will help.

Those are good exercises. And generic. Which is fine. They’re a foundation. Every piano student has to learn her scales.

But what kind of music do you want to play? Classical? Ragtime? Bebop? Country? Blues? A practice should be specific to your type, your level of health, and your life circumstances.

It can still be simple. Engaging socially once a week. Checking in with yourself once a day to see if you’re suppressing your needs. Stopping yourself from jamming your opinion into a conversation when someone else is talking. Paying attention to how strident your conscience is being today.

Each type is multi-faceted. You won’t relate to every element of your type’s profile. And of the parts you do identify with, certain elements will be more problematic than others.

Pick one.

Start small.

Make it doable.

Build from there.

If you don’t know what to do, check in with someone. It’s probably a good idea to check in with someone anyway.


Engaging in a personal Practice is hard.

Engaging in a personal practice is really really hard.

If this has been your experience, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It means you’re a person. 

No matter how simple your practice might be, it’s exceedingly difficult to keep it up with any consistency, for any length of time. Because there are just so many things to do in a day. Or so your ego leads you to believe.

And it’s true – our lives are very busy. But why do we shunt personal work to the bottom of our list?

Because your ego likes things exactly the way they are. 

Practice 3

Your ego is clever, subtle, and knows all of your weak points.

Your ego knows what to whisper in your ear to get its way.

Chances are your intentions are good. But your ego’s termites have been eating away at the foundations of those intentions for a long time.

I’m not writing this with any sense of condemnation. My ego is as wily and relentless as Lex Luthor. He’s as clever as Walter White. He picks me up and slams me down and pins me to the mat with the force of Andre the Giant. Daily.

It helps to have someone to be accountable to – a therapist, a coach, a friend, a community that’s engaged in personal work. Check in regularly. Even if you’ve failed. Especially if you’ve failed. Be open and curious about why you’ve failed.

Practice 4It’s no sin to have failed. You’re up against a truly mighty obstacle: a lifetime’s entrenched habits.

Even the smallest step counts.

And if the smallest step is beyond your grasp, perhaps that’s worth spending five minutes a day contemplating instead. Marvel at the quiet but furious fight your ego is putting up. 
Because it’s terrified. It might seem omnipotent, but it’s trembling. It knows what can happen once someone takes that first tiny step. 

More tiny steps follow.

Practice 2

Enneagram Symbol

Why Learn About Your Enneagram Type

Why learn about your Enneagram type? What’s the point? How can it help you?

Like this: it helps you identify your issues. It helps you call yourself on your shit.

There’s certainly value in identifying and charting out the details of your personality type, as is frequently done with Myers-Briggs and other systems (including the Enneagram). I’m like this, this and this. I’m certainly not like that. I work best at a job that lets me ______, but doesn’t make me  ______.

It’s also helpful to have your personality validated as a legitimate way for a person to be, especially if your set of inclinations and abilities isn’t the one your culture holds up as That To Which Everyone Should Aspire.

But your personality isn’t who you really are. It’s a protective shell. It’s a survival strategy, developed early in life, to get your needs met. And up to a certain point, it works.

In fact, it works so well, we come to identify with it. We describe ourselves in terms of our personality: “I’m strong and assertive – don’t mess with me!” “I’m kind and helpful – I can always tell what others need before they do!” “I’m sensitive and unique – no one understands me!”

But there’s an essential “you” beneath these characteristics.

And as time goes on, the personlity’s attempts to protect us stop helping. We unconsciously expect every situation and relationship to conform to our personality’s special strategy. We automatically enact that strategy, even when it isn’t appropriate. This prevents us from participating in the world as it actually is.

So the ultimate goal of learning about your personality type is to transcend its trappings. It’s to deal with your shadows. “All Enneagram work is a shadow work,” as teacher and writer Russ Hudson has said.

Step one is understanding the many facets of your personality type.

Step two is identifying your shadow issues and blind spots.

Step three is catching yourself in the act as these issues manifest in your day to day life.

Step four is developing and implementing practices to help you take steps toward living as your authentic Self, increasingly able to experience the simple, always available miracle of being alive, right now.