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Submitted by Meredith Arena on Thu, 8/9/2012, 4:27pm
Every time I fall into thinking that something will make me happy, I fail. This might even be the definition of failure. Everything fails us when we expect it to cause happiness. This may be the experience of the folks in this article who walked over hot coals as part of their happiness plan, believing that the strength of their ability to envision a positive outcome would keep them safe. The article, The Positive Power of Negative Thinking, questions the usefulness of the various schools of positive thinking, positive affirmations, and visualizing outcomes, all quite popular in self-help and spirituality these days, all dedicated to eradicating the messiness and pain of actually being alive.
The truth is, I only really like things when they are going the way I wish. I would have loved to tell the story about the hot coals ….“and then my mind was so centered, dude, that I didn’t feel it. I didn’t even have a burn!” But more likely, I would have been nursing wounds while drinking a beer telling a hilarious story about how once again I thought I had figured some stuff out, but really I have third-degree burns on my feet. My Buddhist friends, always compassionate in the face of my silliness, would laugh and tend to the wounds. Jeez…this sounds exactly like my dating life!
Does any of this sound familiar?
You notice the beautiful sunrise, when you are on time for your bus, and it makes you feel good -- You think, “I live in a lovely place.” When you miss the bus, the sunrise stings.
Being 35 feels young, except for this awful chronic _________pain.
I like food when I feel thin. I feel guilty about feeding myself when I feel fat.
My drowsiness is worse when I sit down to meditate.
It is crazy-making, right? Why not just visualize myself skinny, making the bus, sexed-up, pain-free, and enlightened? “Very brief training in meditation, according to a 2009 article in The Journal of Pain, brought significant reductions in pain — not by ignoring unpleasant sensations, or refusing to feel them, but by turning non-judgmentally toward them.” That is it. Of course, Maintaining a Joyful Mind, as the Lojong slogan suggests, does help. But what that means is, maintain a joyful mind while acknowledging that your pants are too tight.
Crazy-making? I spend a lot of time noticing my crazy. This is called meditation: the ancient way to notice your crazy, aka your suffering. Sometimes, knowing this makes me dislike and doubt the Buddhist path. It leaves me nowhere to wallow. I also notice that when my meditation practice waivers, which it has this summer, all of the above are exacerbated.
What to do with all this crazy? Watch it. Attend to it lovingly. Don’t believe it or deny it. Open whenever you can. Cry when you must. Go for a walk or a run. Say to your self, “This sucks and it's OK,” or say to yourself, “This is incredible, and I am grateful.” Make peace with your crazy over and over again.
I find Lojong slogans really helpful. Far from being positive affirmations, they challenge your perspective and ask you to do some work. I leave you with one more today:
Regard all dharmas as dreams; although experiences may seem solid, they are passing memories.
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