Saturday, 25 July 2015

A Short Course In Mindfulness - 7 - Sympathy

I showed you over the last few of these posts how to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Most people can do this if they try. It might take some time, it might be two steps forward and one back, and it is most likely you'll never be completely free of negative thoughts, because humans are like that. But, with practice and determination, almost everyone can improve their thought processes to a level that is truly life-changing. People who embark on this journey reach a point where they notice that difference. Then they rarely look back.

What I'm saying is that if you choose to do this, you'll be glad you did. But I'm not pushy about it for the simple reason that it truly must be a personal decision.

When I talk about it I often run into considerable resistance. Most of it is fear of change. But I also, surprisingly often, run into those who simply don't see a need for it. They are quite content to be negative, or even downright cynical and pessimistic. It may only be on certain points, or in certain ways, for example they are positive about their own family and dearest friends, but utterly negative about the rest of the planet. It's as if they can only keep it up for so long. That is to say they have limited or selective positivity.

There's a saying that goes around "If he's nice to you, but not nice to others in front of you, then he's not nice". It's a bit of a sweeping statement, and as a one-off incident it may not mean too much, but it's worth bearing in mind. Even if you hate the word "nice". It means kind, essentially. The point is that someone who is selective in their kindness probably needs to really consider why.

Now, there's an actual psychological theory behind this, which goes right back to our ancient ways. It suggests that early humans had a genuine need to put family first, then the tribe, and others really didn't matter. At some point civilization created more levels of this, and in fact in some cultures the tribe comes first. But the idea of treating complete strangers as equally important to kin is still considered a bit weird, except in the most enlightened people. It's more instinctive to put those you love first. I don't think anyone would even object to that.

It doesn't mean that you have to actually be cruel to everyone else, and yet for some that is indeed what they do. They are rude or even spiteful to people not in their inner circle. Why?

Sympathy is a funny thing. It's easy to care about those we love, it may be automatic. To do it for everyone requires a bit of thought sometimes. Mindfulness does that. But which comes first? Is sympathy a step on the way to mindfulness, or vice versa? There are differing opinions on this. I suggest it is a spiral upwards, that both lead to the other more and more.

What I have found, is that the more naturally sympathetic a person is, and the broader their sympathy, the greater the chance of them seeking or discovering mindfulness. Naturally sympathetic people are good candidates.

Being sympathetic appears to be part of the innate human character. Even the greatest cynic seems to recognize that, even if it suprises them. It has certainly surprised those studying it.

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/are-babies-born-good-165443013

But you see - it's USEFUL. Useful traits in any species tend to stick around - that's how evolution works, after all.

The Chinese philosopher Meng Tzu decided, well over 2000 years ago, that humans are natually "good" if they given the opportunity. In this, he answered the other question, is it nature, or nurture? In other words, if a child is raised by sympathetic people, taught to be sympathetic, and lives in a culture that encourages sympathy, the chances are he will be sympathetic. Simple as that. If circumstances turn him otherwise, well, then he could be "derailed". Because humans also have an ability to be selfish. It comes from self-preservation, but it can literally take over if the person is damaged.

Luckily sympathy can also be taught. So, even a child with everything against him, cynical or even cruel parents etc, can learn to be sympathetic with enough good influences in his life. In fact that is why it takes a village to raise a child. It's not just that he needs extra discipline - he also needs extra sympathy. The two go together. That's what guidance is.

Why then, do we get adults from loving families who are limited in their sympathy? That's the tricky one. What fails to happen there?

I believe it is CHOICE. Really, quite a simple choice. No necessarily an easy path to follow, but a choice of paths at least. I believe this because I've seen it. Over and over. In those with easy lives AND those with hard ones. I've seen it in the young, and the old. I've seen it in people of all social classes and all levels of intellect. And when it was my turn to make that choice, I knew I was in good company.

Sympathy is one of the few things that I believe works as "fake it 'til you make it". There may be times that the kindness shown is truly an act.....done with gritted teeth. That's no different to "professionalism" as in customer service etc. But just like all positivity, if you replace the unsympathetic thoughts with sympathetic ones, everything changes.

So, if you are the one who finds yourself being sympathetic only to those closest to you, perhaps you would benefit from trying to extend that. Remember, mindfulness is a win-win, not only does it help others, it helps you.

And if you are the person watching the person with limited sympathy, remember to give him sympathy too. He needs it.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Natural

Many of you are joining the movement to bring back facts and science into our discussions rather than "I heard it online". Some of you are doing sterling work and I applaud you. Generally speaking I have other missions, but you have my full support.

My own personal peeve is with the word "natural". I'd like you consider what that actually means.

If we are talking about food, for example, natural seems to mean just about anything people want it to mean, depending on their agenda. Even better, we now have the label "all natural", which I take to be a higher class of natural.

And then of course there's "organic".

I am an organic grower. Officially. I am entitled to put up a sign on my property that says that, and any produce from my farm can be labelled organic. I don't, because I'm so disgusted with the politics and shenanigans of the organic industry that I want nothing to do with it.

But I'll tell you how natural my garden grows. My vegetables are not sprayed with anything. The water comes from the sky or a deep well. The fertilizer is sheep manure. The sheep eat hay and grass. The grass knows only rain. The hay is grown similarly.

It's a natural food lover's dream! All natural! All natural!

And do you what I do with that lamb and those vegetables?

I cook 'em.

Which is not natural. At all. Cooking food does not happen in nature. Burning food does, forest fires, lightning, volcanoes, the sun. These could all heat your dinner, but it's not a careful, controlled heat. It's not cooking.

Are you horrified? Are you shocked?

Don't be. Cooking our food is the most extreme thing we do to our food. There's no rinising it off.

Everyone online is going crazy about these.


These are mutant daisies afflicted by the radioactivity in Japan. 

Or are they?

This mutation also occurs spontaneously far from any radioactivity, from a variety of causes. And therefore it is just as likely that it has nothing to do with it. After all, one of the flowers is completely unaffected.

So it could be quite natural.

But then...radioactivity is natural anyway. Completely, utterly natural. It is keeping us all alive right now, and in some surprising ways. Look it up if you don't believe me.

Natural and organic, do not mean the same thing. Organic means "from once living matter". Which includes coal and gasoline. Actually. Natural just includes non-living things that occur without help outside nature. Wait a minute. What is outside nature? I'm not, are you?

Man-made doesn't mean unnatural. We are part of nature.

I think we need some new words.

In the meantime, stop using this one inaccurately.

A Short Course In Mindfulness - 6 - Replacing the Negative

No, it's really not hard.

What do you do when you argue with someone? Be it out loud or in your head, or maybe shouting at the TV?

You replace their opinion with your own.

That's it. That's what an argument is.

You say "I reject that idea, my idea is better."

You don't do this consciously, because it's a practised thing.

Mindfulness is exactly the same - eventually.

At first, because you are working on your thoughts, you see the process. You are aware of the negative thought that came up in your head. You "heard" it. But you chose to say "No, that's not the right thought, it should be this...." You argue with yourself, and you replace the original thought with a new one.

It will happen faster and faster, with the bad (negative) thought being briefer and briefer until it isn't there.

Feeling the urge to say something tactless? Count to ten. We all know that one.

But instead of saying to yourself "I shouldn't say that" say to yourself "I shouldn't think that".

While you're having this argument with yourself, the negative side will ask why.

"Why shouldn't I say that? It's true!"

There are so many different reasons why not.

You'll hurt the person's feelings.
You'll make them angry.
You'll embarrass others listening.
You'll regret it later.
You may be wrong.
You'll look like a jerk.
Nobody will want to to talk to you.

What do you care about most, the first or last in that list?

Well, inside your head, only you will know what you were thinking. So where's the harm?

You won't notice it at the time. It's a cumulative type of harm.

One very good reason to think positively about others is that it helps you think positively about yourself, here the benefit can be seen quite clearly. Conversely if you are frequently negative about others, chances are that you are also hard on yourself. This is one reason that many people will tell you that to love others you must love yourself. That's not strictly true, as some of the kindest, most loving people I have ever known have had very negative attitudes towards themselves, but what a struggle that must be? Sometimes also, it means that they are doing their "kindness" exclusively out of a sense of duty. That can break a person, and is not recommended.

Which brings us to the next lie.

"I don't care."

Yes, you do. You care a lot. But caring is hard. It asks too many questions, and requires too much effort.

I get told that mindfulness causes people to repress feelings. I dispute that, but let's pretend it did. Let's pretend that thinking mindfully and consequently acting mindfully, involves repressing. What would you be repressing. The urge to shout? The urge to accuse? The urge to say something cruel?

OK, let's turn it around. If you say you don't care, what does it mean? I contend it means "I am repressing the urge to care."

On balance, I can't help feeling you're better off caring.

So what do we mean by "I don't care?" An example might be:

"Wow, you really tore him off a strip, he's really upset."

"I don't care."

You think he deserves to be upset. You think he did something wrong, and had to be punished.

Will this stop it happening again? Or will he just resent being chastised in that way?

If we don't care about the feelings of others, it means we don't care about ourselves. How? Obviously a very selfish person thinks he reserves all his caring for himself, or at least that's the plan, and yet in fact, by being selfish he is actually harming himself. It is the greatest irony.

"No, I mean I wash my hands of it. I've had enough. I don't want to deal with it any more. I've stopped caring."

Liar.

Nobody can switch off caring like that. The negative is humming away in there. No matter what you say out loud, you are fooling yourself. The negativity is inside, and it harms you.

You actually have to change your thoughts, not just your words and actions.

And...it's hard. It's hardest if you allowed yourself to become frustrated or angry. Burning off that negativity take so long.

Now, there is nothing actually wrong with being angry for the right reasons. There are things that we should get angry about, and yes, I said should, and I meant it. Should is a word I reserve for deserving occasions just like anger.

But you know, and not just because you read it here, that people's anger is so often not in proportion to the event. This is something huge that I try to teach.We've all seen the videos of people going completely crazy on You Tube over their drive thru order being wrong. What does that person do extra when somebody runs over their dog?

We all have bad days. We all snap and snarl over little things. But if we make a habit of it, what's left when the shit REALLY hits the fan?

So.

The way to deal with all of this is to stop. Stop before you throttle your co-worker. Stop before you open your mouth. Stop at the first sensation of frustration. Take a deep breath. Replace the thoughts in your head. Do it every time. Practice. Practice. Practice. Instead of repressing the urge to be negative, don't give it room. Spit it right out, and REPLACE IT, with something positive.

Even if the very best you can do is think "I must explain myself better so that my instructions are followed".

This is a start.



Ladies....

Funny the things you run into online when you're looking for something else.

Yesterday I covered, probably not for the last time, my thoughts on the issue of whether women's clothing can be considered provocative.

In the end you know, there is a huge difference between knee-jerk reaction, and really deep thought. I recognize the difference, and if you are surprised at my not getting truly angry with those who still don't understand what I'm saying, then perhaps you are simply quicker than me. It took me a long time to get it myself. And during that journey I suppose I developed a sympathy for those who are slow on the uptake. The post I was supposed to be writing today is about sympathy, so think of this a tangent on that.

One of the reasons woman see themselves so badly, and subsequently one another, is the ridiculous amount of mixed messages we are bombarded with from birth. This was the little piece of serendipity I collected this morning. It's supposed to be a joke, and please excuse the egregious spelling error, just follow the meaning here.

One comment I saw under this was "That's how women are", and it was written by a woman. Presumably if she'd said it out loud, she giggled. I hope she's young. I can forgive the young.

However, if you reach my age and you haven't got a grip on this, I'm seriously worried about you. In fact I hope you got it before you raised children.

I don't think a day goes by on Facebook without seeing a recipe shared by a friend, that has at the bottom of it a link to one of several Facebook pages to do with "weight loss support". Not one of these recipes would help with weight loss, trust me. They are all quite rich and calorie-laden. And therefore good, which is why people share them. And either those who do so don't notice this silliness at the bottom, or don't care.

And these aren't stupid women. All of them are politically savvy, worldly, smart, and usually quick to notice contradictions. I would even go so far as to say mindful. Which just goes to show anyone can be "caught".

Of course, it's all more of the same bullshit that women are expected to entertain and men aren't, but we only have ourselves to blame.

When are you, YES YOU, going to stop making excuses and actually be part of the solution? If we want equality we have to behave better. We have to stop the contradictions. It's immature.




Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Protecting Yourself From Rape With An Invisibility Cloak

The topic that won't go away. Well, it can't. It's too important.

The title is deliberately misleading, but as the entire topic is about being provocative, I thought I would begin with a provocative statement.

Here's the problem.

Some (many?) people believe that what a woman wears has a direct impact on her risk factors for sexual assault, including rape.

Some of these people will state quite firmly that:

1) They do not believe any woman deserves to raped due to her choice of clothing.
2) Nevertheless, they believe that some women dress like whores

I find it hard to see how these two opinions work together. But I try to be patient and understanding with those who hold them, because there was a time when I would have agreed with them. 

That is to say, when I was younger, I would have agreed with both statements.

But at some point I looked at how they contradict each other, and it was an epiphany. Therefore, I keep talking about it in the hope that others will have that epiphany. It's all I can do.

Those who hold these contradictory positions are not all men, in fact it's quite possible that more of them are women. After all, who raises the next generation of men? Who criticizes what women wear most of all? And women often have low self-esteem and much doubt about their appearance.

Sadly, this is what we're dealing with.


And we laugh. It's funny. And we all know what she means, right?

Do we?

I've been told, many times, if I ask what precisely constitutes "slutty" clothing, "oh you know it when you see it".

You bet we do. We've been trained to. From the day we were born everybody around us who designated themselves the decency police have pointed it out. Good grief, how could we not learn this. Dress codes, parents, friends, the media, everybody has an opinion on what women should wear.

I've blogged before on the arbitrary nature of what is and isn't deemed acceptable, and won't bother repeating myself on that. I'm fairly sure that most people who read it did not have their opinion changed by it. In fact I don't expect to change anyone's opinion, it's too deeply ingrained in the psyche. That training worked really well.

A while back I had a polite disagreement with a very good friend about it. She was sincere and emphatic. If women dressed modestly it would be "better". It would "help". But she could not say what modest was. She got quite irate when I demanded a definition, and we both agreed to drop the subject.

But without a definition this argument goes nowhere.

We don't actually fix anything with "should". We can shout all we like about how men are fully responsible, for rape and it doesn't seem to make any difference. Especially all the time their mothers are teaching them about good girls and bad girls.

I don't believe I actually have any friends/readers who would agree with the crazies who think that women "ask for it", but I know I have a few who are still confused on those two beliefs above. And it is confusion. It is cognitive dissonance of the highest order. That's why it causes anger when it's challenged.

I am a pragmatist. I understand cause and effect. It's something you cannot escape from and it's why we find ourselves here. People getting cause and effect wrong creates so many problems in our world, and yet we see it all the time. And this is where the provocation idea comes in. So let's look at that carefully, because this is important.

We can see very easily that aggression in all its forms, from bar fights to military invasions, can be a result of provocation. As a child I hit people for teasing me. Perhaps you did, or perhaps you wanted to. It's wrong but it's so damn natural, this is not something we will ever overcome, and you can quote me on that. Dogs bite when they are teased. So do snakes, as my son found out when he was younger. And...don't poke the bear. We all understand provocation. OK?

And while we're here....provocation is not a cause. It is never allowed as "just cause" for violence.

What we forget when we call clothing provocative is that clothing is inert. It does not do anything. It doesn't poke, it doesn't tease, and it certainly isn't aggressive. People might do that, but garments don't. Attitude can be provoking, words too, but a piece of cloth? Maybe a flag?.........no, not even then. It's the attitude behind it that causes the anger. The poke, poke, poke.

You with your hand up at the back? Did you say "Yeah, just like guns don't kill people, people kill people. Ha ha ha. Spoons made me fat. HA HA HA.". You look very pleased with yourself. No, not like that. There is only one purpose for a gun, and you know it. Spoons and skirts are not analogous to guns in any way. Don't be silly.

No, the reason that people call clothing provocative is because they believe they know the intent of the wearer. What they mean is "she's wearing that to get male attention."

Is she? Are you sure? No, you're not. That may be the case, but just as likely:

1. It's all she's got clean right now.
2. If you've got it, flaunt it.
3. It was on sale.
4. It's the latest fashion.
5. It's to impress her friends.
6. It's comfortable.
7. She just likes it. Actually.

Not that any of this matters really. Nobody's else's business, but the fact remains that when you look at what anyone is wearing, unless it's a uniform you really have no arcane knowledge of why it is being worn. No, you don't. So quit saying you do.

And what if she is wearing it for male attention? Is that wrong? Back in the days when women wore pretty bonnets, they chose them with the intent to impress male suitors.

Do men never dress to attract female attention?

Humans are vain creatures. We are programmed to seek attention in this way.

The very first item "worn" by humans was most likely beads. When an ancient human collected such items that could be strung around the neck, who did they do it for? Can you see your own necklace? Did they have mirrors? No, it was "look at me, I'm pretty, I have beads". Anthropologists strongly suspect men did this first, based on the fact that in the animal kingdom it is usually the male who "displays".

But is the attention sought sexual?

Sometimes it must have been, it certainly is for peacocks. But there is far more to our vanity than that.

When you get dressed in the morning you do so for many different reasons. Sometimes it's the first thing out of the closet. Sometimes it's an agonizing decision. But to a greater or lesser extent there are two things that we do - sometimes subconsciously.

We wear what we think looks good. That is to say it "suits" us. It minimizes flaws and maximizes our attributes. You get compliments when you wear forest green? You'll wear it more. When you are choosing a single item of clothing with the help of other people, there will at some point be an agreement that this one looks better on you than that one. Maybe an expert can explain why, but often it's just one of those things. Unless you are deliberately trying to look bad for some reason, the choice is obvious.

We wear what we thinks "says" something about us. This can often be for business reasons. There is such a thing as power dressing. If you are actually in the public eye there is a genuine career benefit in being trendy and in choosing certain styles. You may need to research this, or take advice, but there are certain unwritten rules, and they change. Watch Hilary Clinton's earrings for a lesson here. In some lifestyles (including mine) looking quirky is not only acceptable but expected. If I do a show in very "plain" clothing it is a bad business move. The more colourful I am the better. But there are individual choices here too. Extroverts tend to dress differently to introverts, because we seem to like to warn people. Is it vanity or is it authenticity? Does it really matter?

Is any of this sexual? Unless you are one of those who thinks everything is sexual, I'd assume you'd think not. Self -image is far more complex and interesting than that.

But that word provocative, what does it mean? It means intent to elicit a reaction.

This is a huge assumption.

Is this person trying to elicit a reaction?


Possibly. Possibly not.

If you say "obviously" then you must be a mind-reader. Clearly this person doesn't object to attention, but you absolutely do not know their motives for such an unusual appearance. No, you don't. You can make all sorts of guesses, but any of them could be completely wrong and really is the height of arrogance to insist that you can tell just by looking.

I think this is hideous. But it's none of my damn business. I didn't have to pay for it, and it causes me no harm. It causes nobody any harm.

Is it provocative?

Oddly enough some people think so. People with extreme appearances like this are frequently insulted, and sometimes attacked physically. How can you justify that?

Well, here's the truth. People justify it by saying "what do you expect if you look like that?"

Now, let's be very clear here. They may not actually say that a weird-looking person deserves to be beaten up. But they are saying it's "understandable". They are saying that if you go around looking very unusual you shouldn't be surprised if you are bullied.

They claim not to be blaming the victim ("Oh, it's still wrong") but at the same time they see it as normal, or "human nature" in some way.

In other words, all you have to do is conform, and you won't get picked on.

Really? It's certainly true that bullies quite often single out targets based on appearance. Whether it's deliberate or accidental. Ask the fat kid. No question at all. And saying this is wrong is stating the obvious. It's also stating the obvious that if we shrug and say nothing we can do about that - that's how bullies are, we are enabling them. But I stated early on here that no amount of shouting what people shouldn't do is going to change anything one way or the other. Telling bullies to resist taunting or harming her is not going to work. They seek out victims, and if they don't find a "suitable"one they'll pick at random.

And telling her to look normal so they leave her alone (and move on to somebody else) may sound like good advice, but it's not.

Because there's no such thing as normal. Unless you mean a newborn. And is that with or without hair? And which skin colour?

And you don't need me to tell you that skin colour is a BIG issue when it comes to bullying.

What would normal mean there, if we defined it? The most common?

At it's absolute peak, (visibly) white people were about 27% of the world's population in 1950. This is now dropping again and expected to reach single figures later this century. There is nothing normal about being white. We are a mutation.

Ah you say, you can't use that as an example. Skin colour is not a choice. Quite so. But then neither is sex. So being female is normal, because we are the majority, but we are still treated as a minority, more so in some places than others, but let's just say that equality is not here yet. No, it's not.

If it were we wouldn't be having this argument in the first place. Because it's all about what women wear. Because we are the bullied ones. We are the ones being told what to do and what not to do. We're the ones being told that our clothing causes problems.

When this was discussed recently, and I used the example of a Muslim girl being chastised by her father for not covering her face, because it could cause her to be raped, I was told this was not the same thing. Well, two things that are different are never the same, but I contend that the analogy is sound because it is different only by degree. The argument remains the same, and the solution offered by the argument is just as ineffective.

If a girl wearing a face cover worked as an effective protection against rape, then by now all women would cover their faces. Yes, really. We all wear shoes to protect our feet, and I don't need to tell you how profitable sunscreen is.

But here is just one example of a Muslim country that has found it serves no purpose.

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/clothing-has-nothing-to-do-with-rape-expert-says

If the solution really were that simple, after all these years of women suffering this crime of violence, do you think we are so stupid as to not follow it?

OK.

"Slutty", or provocative. or whatever you want to call it, is a moving target. It varies by date, place, occasion, and social group. To many religiously conservative people a woman showing her shins is a slut.

In olden days a glimpse of stocking........

And yet, those who insist that modesty "helps" continue to rave on. They ignore the data. The data shows that the vast majority of rapes are committed against fully dressed women with no history of provoking anyone. In other words the idea that the provocative clothing has any connection to violence against women is simply wrong. But a lot of people still believe it.

  • Research conducted by Amnesty International in 2005 found that 27% of people believe that a woman is totally or partially responsible if she is wearing ‘sexy or revealing’ clothing.
  • A survey of 986 Scots carried out by TNS System Three in February 2008 for the Scottish Government found that 27% thought that a woman bore some responsibility if she wore revealing clothing.
But here's another angle. One recent study has suggested something quite different:

http://clubtroppo.com.au/2011/05/17/does-provocative-clothing-protect-women-against-rape/


No. Let's be perfectly honest here. Seeing clothing which is tight or shows more skin as "provocative" is a matter of opinion and taste. If you find a person's clothing offensive, or any aspect of their appearance come to that, you don't have to look. That's how the Amish deal with it. They look away. They don't condemn, or persecute, or bully. Just because they opt for an ultra modest style of clothing doesn't mean they insult ours. They keep their opinions to themselves.

It is not "common sense" for women to dress modestly. It solves nothing. And there is no solid definition of "modest". At best it means "like me".

We can not live our lives based on what other people think of the way we look, because there will always be somebody who disapproves.

That invisibility cloak might just work though. Making women invisible seems to be the goal.



Tuesday, 21 July 2015

An Objection

"Seriously, I'm not a bad person, I don't say anything unkind to anyone's face, so how is my "negativity" hurting them."

No silly, it's hurting YOU.


A Short Course In Mindfulness - 5 - Rejecting the Negative

The "how" of it.

This is really the basis of the entire book I'm writing, and it does require an entire book, so I don't intend to cover it in one post here. But just to go over the idea....

You are the one who has to make all the choices.

First you have to decide that you want to reject the negative. And to do that you have to have a good reason. That's the "why". Nobody can make you do it. They can hint, expect, suggest, .........all the way to demand, but just as we cannot change the behaviour of others, they cannot change ours. Only you can do it. So there's the "who".

Then there's the "when". Time actually crops up here, especially in it not happening fast. This is a process. And that's not all.

Unfortunately you only learn the benefit of rejecting the negative after you've done it. Then it's obvious. But at the time of attempting this, it's a gamble. It's a lot of work and the reward is not certain. It's a leap of faith, in a way. So you do it before you really know why.

But the "how", is the hardest part of all. This is not a switch you can flick.

There will be great resistance. From where? From you. You will effectively argue with yourself.

That's how it has to be, because you will change.

The best example of this I ever heard was on an internet forum some years back, wasn't even about mindfulness, but was a perfect example of it just the same.

A man told a story of how he overcame "head up arse syndrome" as he called it. He was being criticized for being stubborn over certain things, quite minor, petty even, but at the time they seemed important. I forget the details, but they're irrelevant anyway. The big thing here was that he made a conscious choice to take that leap of faith and let go. He said at first it wasn't easy and he likened it to giving up an addiction. He felt physical symptoms from shrugging it off. At this point he even saw a doctor, wondering if he had OCD, and was told no, you're pretty uptight but it's not clinical. Two steps forward, one step back, and then one day, actually suddenly, it all fell into place.

He drew a picture, similar to this:



This is why so many people balk at the idea. In fact it's why there are warnings about strict Buddhist meditation in those outside the Asian cultures, because the unprepared western psyche can take quite a hit.

You've heard of people who become mindful after a tragedy in their lives. Doesn't always happen. Sometimes they become bitter instead, or sometimes the "new" attitude seeps away and they revert to how they were.

Most of us aren't that bad to begin with. We are basically decent people. We just gossip and whine a bit too much, and we think it's OK, no harm in it, everyone does it..........

But the biggest fear (and it is a fear) is of losing your sense of humour.

Have you seen the Dalai Lama? Have you missed the laughter? Here is a man trying to represent Buddhism to the world, and trust me he has a great sense of humour.

You are not trying to be a Buddhist, just a better human being. That's all. You're not losing anything, you're finding yourself.

So. Here you are. Today. Interested enough in this idea to be reading this. Hopefully having read all of it so far. Maybe you've made the decision, maybe not.

What will it involve? HOW will you reject the negative? By becoming more mindful.

"Yes Melanie, we got that part, you keep saying that."

That's how! Actions begin in the mind. Feelings may be visceral (or seem to be, anyway) but actions are different.

Things you do, and most importantly, things you say, are the result of a thought process.

If you say something unsympathetic it's because you were having unsympathetic thoughts. And the great lie we all tell:

"I didn't mean it."

Let's get one thing straight, right here and now, if you have to apologize for what you said, there's a mindfulness problem. A negativity problem.

Before we go any further, we must address the issue of those who seek offence. This a disorder some people suffer from, and we can't help them. They have to fix themselves. Do we have to apologize to them?

Perhaps. If you know you are dealing with a person like that and mischievously play into it, there's no real excuse, and at some point you may need to apologize for the sake of others around you. But this is "advanced" stuff, which I'll deal with in my book, if you are so inclined. For now, hold this thought: "don't push buttons".

For now, let's assume you are dealing with rational people whose reactions to you are normal and sensible and fair. If you upset reasonable people then you must apologize. Better yet, don't upset them. Aim to conduct yourself in such a way that you never need to apologize.

But do it anyway. Apologize often. It is so good for the soul. If you collide with somebody in the supermarket, apologize. Even if it was 100% their fault. 

OK, I saw a hand raised in objection there.

Really? Why not? Do you think that if you sigh and roll your eyes at the guilty party it will achieve anything?

Oh yes, I've heard that one a million times "It makes me feel better". No it doesn't. It adds to your negativity, and it harms you.

Step 1 in rejecting the negative is not to say or do negative things.

Step 2 is not thinking them.

If you are saying them, you are thinking them. They come from an ugly place inside you, a place you should reserve not for shopping cart road rage, but for fighting real injustice in this world.

Every day of my life I see people getting more angry over pathetic things, than over the things that matter. Your priorities are all wrong, people!

Negativity breeds negativity. Somebody has to call a halt to it somewhere.

When you catch yourself thinking negative thoughts, STOP.

Stop right there.

Replace negativity with sympathy.

Tomorrow we'll investigate sympathy.