Friday, 10 July 2015

A Short Course In Mindfulness - 2 - Positive and Negative

Serendipity. I was about to write this one, and a friend posted the following. Do read it.

As one comment says, the idea of telling everyone to just "think positive" is patronising. Many people have issues in their lives that make that anything from hard to impossible. In particular is the bullshit aimed at people suffering from an actual depressive illness. It's the modern equivalent of "snap out of it".

Our thought patterns are formed early on, and this is one of those nature and nurture double whammies. First you inherit a personality type, and then the person you inherited it from raises you. Throw in some early life experiences and you have a system in your head for dealing with life.

For the most part it works. Look at you all grown up. You are a success, despite whatever bits are less than ideal. Right?

Remember when I said nobody's perfect? I meant it. None of us, not one, has it all together. We are just at various levels of togetherness. Most of us cope.

Those who don't, those who seek professional help, are offered two avenues of treatment. One is medication. Works for some, not so much for others. Each person is different so there's some trial and error and so on. The other is what is sometimes called cognitive behavioural therapy. I am privileged to know several therapists, and also a few people who have received this treatment. Sometimes it works alone, sometimes it works in tandem with drugs, but it usually works.

Surely, it can help everyone? Yes, it would. But the vast majority of people don't ever get to try it out because they have never considered they need it, or they don't have time, or it's expensive, or they think it's all a crock of psychobabble. Those who've benefited from it, and those who work in that area and see the results sigh deeply and wish people were more open-minded, but let's be honest here, we've all rolled our eyes at those people who see their therapist for everything. There is a stigma to it.

The solution is obvious. Become your own therapist.

And because you are talking to yourself (hey, you do anyway, don't pretend you don't) you might want to start with being honest, because you'll notice if you're not.

So. First admit that life is not 100% great. Nobody's is, and I said NOBODY. Some have better lives than others, and that's part luck and part effort. You work on the effort, maybe your luck will change. Even if it doesn't, you'll see it differently.

There are endless things we can do to improve our lives. Some are obvious, health stuff, lifestyle choices, getting rid of toxic people in your life, and so on. Most people overlook their thought patterns, because no, it really ISN'T as easy as just "thinking positive". That is the end result, not the method. It's not a switch you can flick.

I want you to consider opposites.

You are seeing positive as the opposite of negative, right?

OK, what's the opposite of loud? Of light? Of heavy? Of full?

These aren't real opposites.

Take light. It's a real thing. It can be measured, it has a wavelength. Dark is not a thing. It is the absence of light. There is a scale down of less and less light until there is none.

Loud is noise, quiet is less noise. Silence is no noise.

And so on. You get the idea.

Negative is a construct. It exists in math and physics but not in reality. In reality you cannot have less than nothing. If positive were a real thing, and you took it all away you wouldn't end up with negative, but with simply absence of positive. You could work towards absence of negative in much the same way.

That absence is balance. It is reality. It is neither Pollyanna sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns, nor is it nagging self-doubt, passive aggression, fear, and all that other stuff we call negative.

When you achieve mindfulness you are not simply "thinking positive" (although that is what inevitably happens) you are simply thinking fully. You are examining the negative and discarding it. You are examining the positive and aiming towards it.

So you begin at the bottom, and work up.

Here the cynic says that negative thinking is reality. No, it isn't. Good and bad are just values we choose to place on situations. Only balance is reality, because it looks at both sides.

I'm not saying optimism is a bad thing, but it isn't active.

The usual way we hear this in our world is people saying they'll pray for something.

But the Russians, the world famous pessimists, have a saying:

Pray to God, but keep rowing to shore.

The other one you'll hear is "Let go and let God". I can quite understand that in difficult times, when people feel helpless, there is some comfort in that idea. But there is another way of looking it, from Desiderata:

"...whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should."

I much prefer the latter as it doesn't take the responsibility off us to deal with the day to day things, while suggesting that in the bigger picture worrying is unnecessary, and actually rather pointless.

Nothing I can do will stop the world turning, but luckily, also, I need do nothing. It'll happen without any effort on my part.

So I can concentrate on myself, and those around me. I can in fact tend my own garden. 

The very first thing we must do then, having acknowledged that we have negative thoughts that are acting as roadblocks in our lives, is ask why. What benefit are they to us? Are we using them as excuses? 

Today's homework. Next time you notice a negative thought, ask yourself what benefit you find there. Do not use the "reality" excuse. Reality is in balance, not in negativity. Ask yourself, and find an honest answer.

Tomorrow we tackle overcoming negativity. 

1 comment:

  1. Well done...and yet there are aspects of what we might call the dark and negative that serve us as natural contrast. These "dark times" help us appreciate the good, or lend credence to the positive, as may be seen in the yin/yang symbol. All duality being part of the One. ~ Blessings! <3