- At the Desert Retreat House -
I just came across a very interesting article in the New York Times challenging readers to “make this the year that you quiet all those negative thoughts swirling around in your brain.” The article went on to report some current psychological research suggesting that most of us tend to ruminate on bad experiences rather than positive ones suggesting that “we overlearn from our negative experiences and underlearn from our positive ones.” This constant negativity “gets in the way of happiness, adds to stress and worry and ultimately damages our health.”
For me, the most interesting part of this article was the science-based advice about how to get out of the recurring cycle of negative thinking:
The first step to stopping negative thoughts is a surprising one.
Don’t try to stop them.
If you are obsessing about a lost promotion
or the results of the presidential election,
whatever you do, don’t tell yourself,
‘I have to stop thinking about this.’
Instead, notice that you are in a negative cycle,
acknowledge it and own it.
By doing this you are on your way to taming your negative thoughts.
I find it very interesting that today’s psychologists and neuroscientists are coming to the same conclusion that ancient Buddhist sages came to generations ago in their teaching about the practice of mindfulness.
In his newly-published book, Siddhartha’s Brain: Unlocking the Ancient Science of Enlightenment, James Kingsland offers this concise insight into what Buddhists mean when they talk about practicing mindfulness. He explains that mindfulness is:
Making a conscious effort to live nonjudgmentally
in the present moment,
acknowledging thought, feeling and sensations as they arise
and accepting them just as they are.
There is a good deal of talk nowadays about the health-effects of mindful meditation – devoting a dedicated period of time to simply be quiet, alert and awake present in the moment. But mindful mediation doesn’t demand that practitioners must blot out and eliminate any and all thoughts that might come into their mind (especially negative ones). Instead, when engaging in a time of mindful meditation, when any thought comes to mind we are told to simply acknowledge it and then let it go. The “practice” of mindful meditation is indeed a “practice” for the routine living of everyday life.
For most of my entire life I was taught to fight against any negative or “sinful” thoughts that ever came into my thinking. In some sense I was always engaged in a battle with myself. I have now come to believe that all of us need to learn how to be less judgmental and more gentle with ourselves. It may be the only way to tame the cycle of negative thinking that holds so many of us in it’s grip.
Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, once observed:
When you are gentle with yourself, you are yourself,
and there you find deep peace.
It’s the peace that makes a child want to sit near you.