Previously I mentioned that our brains are literally hardwired to push us toward focusing on the negative, to be scanning for perceived danger and threats. To make matters worse, our neocortex, which is the seat of imagination, is good at making things up. This is a formula for a lot of negative fantasies. With all of this going on in the background it can generate a lot of stress and strife, and suffering. I call this negative default mind space our survival conscience because this hardwiring of the brain is the result of spending eons in survival mode. So, we need tools that will help us counter this aspect of the human condition. It’s a little more involved than just saying ‘well, just don’t be negative all the time,’ or covering it up and pretending to be overly positive all the time.
I have actually heard people make what I believe are completely overly simplistic and pollyana statements like “I just don’t do negative.” At a conference with a man named Robert Holden, who has dedicated a large part of his life to understanding happiness (wrote the book Be Happy, which I highly recommend), he addressed this sophomoric approach. His simple response to this was, “Your chances of never having to do negative is roughly equivalent to the chances of you never dying.” As Buddhist doctrine proposes, dukka (do-ka) or, things that that we will experience as negative, are part of life. Stuff happens, excrement or dookie happens. Into every life some rain must fall. The rain falls on the just and unjust alike. Simply putting on a happy face all the time is not the best answer and can actually be unhealthy. Negative energy has to be processed or it can build up in harmful ways.
I often have people ask me if I have discovered a silver bullet in life. After six decades of searching and practicing, if there is a silver bullet in life, I believe it is self-awareness. By the way, I also believe there is a golden bullet in life. I’ll save that for another time. So, in our efforts to push back on the influence from our survival conscience, here is one tool that I invite people to experiment with. When you are saying, thinking, or doing something negative, ask yourself “How is this Helping?” If you are aware enough to catch it early ask, “How is this going to help?” This simple tool of mindfulness can help you avoid creating self-imposed dukka. It is a fact that the majority of our “stuff” is self-inflicted wounds. To whatever degree we can mitigate that we are clearly better off.
This is just one arrow in the quiver. At some point I will share the whole arsenal. The bottom line is, the default is real. Dukka happens. We are responsible for much of our suffering. More happiness and less suffering means we have to fight the good fight. Keep going!