(Q) Will the ongoing negativity ever stop? I don’t want to wear ear plugs all day, stick my head in the sand, or tune to only one channel. I do want to stay informed and have a positive outlook. Is that still possible?
(A) Yes, it is possible. With modifications. Happiness is a mental state. We feel happy when we experience pleasure. Positivity is a state of mind that can be practiced and exercised on a regular basis. In a perfect world (not this one!) we would be relaxed, happy and positive all the time. You probably already know this, but humans have a negativity bias. Simply put, we pay more attention to negative possibilities that positive probabilities. Long ago, this protected us from danger by warning us. It saved our life countless times over countless lifetimes. Over time, we learned to depend on these warnings. The brain has many ways to alert us, but fear and anger, especially about the unknown, is one of the most common.
We have less to fear from unknown dangers than we did long ago, yet the negativity bias persists. So, it is up to us to retrain our brains to take notice of positive, relaxed moments, and to record them for future use. For many of us, this is a new skill. Our backgrounds, upbringing, and early experiences did not allow our brain to learn this before now, and we were not encouraged to develop all the resources that lead to wellbeing. It is not too late to retrain our brain, and to help friends and family do the same. We are ambassadors of a new world that is shedding its old skin. Perhaps we can slough off some tired and overworked brain cells too and see what is new on the horizon.
Seems simple enough. Why isn’t everyone doing it? As it turns out, there is not as much support for our becoming well as we would hope or expect. The old-world is not quite done with us yet. it has a strong preference for our remaining fearful and foggy, angry and anxious, co-dependent and controlled. To escape the pull of this (negative) gravity, we need rocket thrusters! It is difficult for one person to generate this much positivity, but one person among other like-minded people can. Long ago, there was safety in numbers. The same is true today, but the numbers you and I are looking for must be integers that when multiplied open the door to new thinking and being.
Regardless of what or whom we believe is holding us back – a person, entity, organization, or other dominion, it is a force to reckon with. Consciously and unconsciously, energies work against us day and night. They tempt us, overrule us, vote us down, pour sleep in our eyes, distract us, encourage us to shop, take us out to dinner, buy new TV sets for us, and convince us that we are already doing enough for the planet. Notice that you can insert any word or subject into this discussion. We could just as easily be talking about the pitfalls of a new failsafe diet. And we are speaking about everyone we know, because we are only just beginning to awaken and wipe the sleep from our eyes. Waking up in a new world mid-lifestream is an ongoing process, not an event. This process will most likely carry on for a while, maybe even for the rest of this life. This is not meant to defeat us, but to encourage our “better angels” to help guide and strengthen our physical, mental, and spiritual muscles as they have become lax from disuse.
Long-term stress reduces your ability to think, feel, and act creatively. you are losing muscle. Mara (the personification of the forces antagonistic to enlightenment) wins. Mara was the demon who tried to keep the Buddha from achieving enlightenment. Mara is also an expression for the words and internal vices that we face on the pathway of life. Psychologically speaking, it is a manifestation of our own negative mind. Like advertisers, Mara knows the best tricks.
It is our job to avoid getting hooked, and to learn how to free ourselves when we do. Instead of ignoring Mara or driving him away, the Buddha would calmly acknowledge his presence, and say, “I see you, Mara.” He would invite Mara for tea and serve him as an honored guest. Sometimes becoming aware is enough. Gaia’s words were similar. She would say, “Go quickly! Get the good silver! Serve the sweetest delicacies. Make warm the fire. Give this enemy the best seat at the table and serve him well!” Why? So Mara (negativity/fear/anxiety) will remain in plain sight, not disguised as something we might fear or crave; too satiated with food and drink to trouble us.
Who or what is Mara in your life? The peddlers of misinformation, a family member, your boss, debt, fear of the unknown,uncertainty about our future? Mara is also a place. It is where we lose ground (of being). Mara is what happens when we forget that we are on a mission that lasts exactly one lifetime. Many of us are more than halfway through our mission now, regardless of our chronological age. We are telling our story through our thoughts, words, and actions. Even when we falter, our story will be remembered, recorded, and retold in a future time by our descendants and those who follow us. Our stories are not meant to die here with us, they are meant to be passed along to future generations who will herald our efforts at a challenging crux in time where we fought to stay awake and steer our minds and souls to safety. Our stories will be written in the starry constellations. After all, we are following the path they laid out for us.
My old-self imagined she would be happy one day, but not today. She thought that someday she would be smarter, richer, thinner (and enlightened). She waited for more knowledge, deeper messages, and better opportunities. My old-self thought that my life was unsatisfactory, especially compared to others. My old-self truly wanted a better life for me, but it never seemed to arrive in a form she recognized or approved of. Today, my in-process self is satisfied with less. She is far from perfect but has good intentions. She seems to enjoy life more and every now and then something wonderful drops in her lap. Seeing ourselves in the third-person-present helps us be objective — right here, right now, just as we are.