Something to Worry About
When I was a kid, I was free to come and go from home, pretty much at will, especially during the summer months. Yet, it was also true that I never went out without first giving mom a plan. You know, something to worry about.
“Hey mom,” I’d say, “I’m going to the park to play ball with the guys, and when we’re done I’ll go for a swim.” “Okay,” she’d say, “but get off your bike to cross Bridge Street—you’ll get run over if you don’t.” And then, still pondering the possible dangers she’d say something like, “If that Anderson boy is at the park… I want you to come home—he’s trouble; and no swimming without a lifeguard, and don’t swim across the river —you’ll drown!” She’d say, “You got it?” I’d say “I got it.”
My mom’s caution filter was not just her thing, though. We all focus on gloom and worry because we have an evolutionarily established bias called negativity bias. In this post I’ll write about only one of its many implications for experiencing joy in life and insight in meditation.
The Buddha’s teachings describe many practices to help us overcome fear and worry. This is great because it is difficult to settle into a life filled with joy if our minds and bodies are not reasonably at ease. Likewise, it’s difficult to settle into steady and easeful meditation without being, to a large degree, free from the mental agitations that accompany negative states of mind like fear, worry, and ill-will.
The Brain’s Velcro Tendencies
Unfortunately, without fully appreciating the power of negativity bias, one might reasonably assume that there is an energetic equivalence in the effort it takes to replace gloomy habits of mind with more positive tendencies. However, as Rick Hanson, PhD, points out in his book, The Buddha’s Brain, the science shows that “the brain is like Velcro for negative events and Teflon for positive events.”
Therefore, if we want to establish a satisfying meditation and mindfulness practice, cultivating positive mind states like gratitude and joy is not optional. Developing positive mind states is a practice that’s every bit as important as developing morality, mindfulness, and meditation. And, perhaps most importantly, we must devote ourselves to acknowledging and connecting with goodness.
We must devote ourselves to connecting with goodness. That’s because we have a natural tendency to be more deeply impacted by the negative in life. Therefore, we have to mindfully notice, and then take a few moments to linger over the pleasant and joyful things that occur in our day. We have to really notice them. Then imaginatively steep our whole being in the wholesome goodness that surrounds us everyday. Doing so is worth the effort. Our loved ones and friends will be the first to thank us. Our ability to enjoy more stability in meditation will improve as well.
Here’s a link to an article called Ten Strategies for Overcoming Negativity Bias and Increasing Your Quality of Life: https://daringtolivefully.com/overcoming-negativity-bias
Love and remember your mom; steep in memories of when she was good to you, and make new memories if you can!
Happy Mother’s Day!