Recently one of my clients asked me how to stay positive more often and tune out negativity.
I found this question very interesting, even though it isn’t the first time I’ve heard someone including myself, ask this. That’s because it’s the kind of question always provides some good food for thought.
Here’s what I think about it, and what I shared with her during the course of our conversation.
There is no tuning out negativity as it is a natural phenomenon in this universe that we belong to, just as everything related to the ebb and flow of life. However much we try to keep it out, by distancing ourselves from undesirable situations, people or experiences, as with the occurrences of day and night, rise and fall of waves, it will arise. As it arises, it shall fall away as well.
Trying to shut negativity out will only cause us stress and frustration – stress at the effort it takes and frustration at not being able to prevent it from touching our experiences.
How shall one then remain calm and harmoniously go about life?
Attaching meaning to experiences
Usually, we are quick to judge an experience as positive or negative. That’s the conditioning we have since birth. The same conditioning also leads us to associate suffering or pleasure with that experience, and even exaggerate that association and make the whole experience snowball into something unmanageable.
However, what if we develop alternative perspectives? How about making an intention of viewing experiences with more equanimity over time and even see what one can learn from experience – good or bad? What if we don’t give such divisive labels as good or bad, and treat them as just occurrences that come and go, and that it is in our best interest not to be swayed into extremes of distress and celebration every time? You may find my previous article helpful in this context.
Notice what is triggered
When something strikes you as good or bad, notice the surge of emotions and associated sensations in your body. Reflect on why the particular incident triggers an emotion within you. Is there learning or realization that’s coming through?
For example, when someone says something that triggers you, it could be a suggestion or feedback given without much thought to the choice of words or the tone of voice, it is understandable that it may strike you as unpleasant.
However what is over time and several occurrences, you can practice taking a pause between the trigger and your response, give a more equanimous response than you would have given previously and then later, at your time and pace, see what lessons emerge from that experience including the original feedback – was there something in there that could have stoked your insecurity or an existing emotional wound and if that is the reason the current experience triggered you so much, and if so what can be done to heal that wound and develop harmony?
Tools to help you
Practises such as meditation and journaling are shown to improve our mindfulness and equanimity in everyday situations and help us stay calmer and tap into our inner wisdom.
Nowadays there are quite a few meditation apps that offer short, guided meditations for free. That’s a great way to get started on developing a meditation practice. As your practice deepens, you could consider enrolling into a meditation course as well.
Journaling at the end of the beginning of a day, or being conscious of moments, people, situations and resources in your life that support and nurture you, and bring a smile to your face, or simply bring ease to your life is a great way to lift one’s spirits. The more often you’re conscious of that during the day, the more often you’re happier in the course of a day. How about trying that on for size?
As with anything worthwhile in life, awareness and practice of lessons and techniques learned will bring about subtle but lasting shifts in our life, starting from day 1. Today is a good day to start, now is a good moment to start.
I wish you a satisfying journey into self-exploration and harmony ahead.
Recently, I attended a 10-day Vipassana course where one observes silence for the entire period (no phones, no eye contact, no sign language) while learning this 25-century old meditation technique, said to be preserved in its ancient form as taught by the Buddha.
I had my reservations all along, however, since, in the larger scheme of things, it’s just 10 days of my life to experience something that has been on my bucket list for long, I decided to give it a go. I am absolutely happy I took that decision.
The richness of experience and learning in that environment is not something I can capture in one article. Hence I will share that over the coming weeks, with the intention that it helps you too in your daily life.
My key takeaway – Equanimity
Today, let me talk about one of the key lessons from the course – Equanimity. The state where the mind doesn’t sway between extreme likes (cravings) and extreme dislikes (aversions), where one accepts transience as a constant. A state that when practised enables one to be more at harmony at whatever happens in life.
Woah! I know that sounds like new age bulls**t. But hang in there while I explain with some examples. I’m by no means an expert, but ever since the start of the course I have been giving this (practising equanimity) a fair shot and I have to admit, I see subtle but noticeable changes in and around me, for the better.
We all have wants, needs and desires in life – for it to be a certain way, for people to behave a certain way with us or for us to achieve certain goals. What starts off as a simple wish grows into a strong desire which in many cases becomes a full-fledged craving – probably to obtain a certain career success, a material possession or to have a certain someone be more present in your life. When we are caught in the middle of that craving, we are actually miserable, very often wavering between the extremes of hope and despair, sadness, anger and frustration. We tell ourselves it’s miserable without that certain someone or something. Neither is that a satisfying place to be, nor is it productive (for us to reach those goals).
For many of us, especially those super ambitious go-getts amongst us, that is a recurring scenario. What if there is a middle way which we can follow and still get to our goals? That is the path of equanimity.
Trigger and Reaction – the magic of a pause.
Sometimes we find ourselves in the middle of a cravings-fit, or an aversions-fit (where we simply dislike what’s happening, for example, body pains or an irrationally angry spouse or partner). What if we give ourselves a few seconds between trigger and reaction?
The easiest and most damaging response we can give to someone or experience is a spontaneous reaction. That response comes from a mind in agitation, our own mind. A spontaneous response usually aggravates and multiplies the misery of an unpleasant situation. What if, we start practising taking a pause between trigger and reaction? What if we curiously observe the changes in our body and the biochemical reactions that result in bodily sensations when triggered?
Be a curious scientist.
When something triggers anger in you, you most likely will feel heat and perspiration on your skin, your heartbeat rate go up, etc. Your body is in agitation— when you pause and observe it, you stay present with your body and the emotion you feel, with every passing moment your mind regains calmness, helping you give a more equanimous and productive response thereafter. Notice this is different from suppressing a feeling which isn’t healthy because sooner or later it manifests itself with even greater force, but about staying with the feeling, but not letting it overpower you. You truly are then the master of every moment presented to you.
When it comes to your dreams and desires, check in with yourself. Are there moments where you feel desperate and frustrated at things not going the way you wanted? How about taking a few moments to pause, count your blessings, review the scenario and make the necessary changes? How about releasing the need for instant gratification and allow things to unfold at their natural pace?
I have been taking baby steps and it’s been incredibly helpful. The environments inside my body, home and office have been more harmonious, productive and peaceful.
A gentle encouragement
If this resonated with you, how about you give this a shot too. If you manage to take a pause 1 out of the next 10 times you’re triggered, pat yourself on the back. You have your first win! Over the next 10 such instances, you might pause and provide a more equanimous response 2 out 10 times. The frequency of productive, equanimous responses thus keeps increasing steadily.
I’m curious to know what you think of this article and if you have any questions. Please share your thoughts. Thank you.