The modern world seems to fuel itself on anxiety and hypervigilance, creating a tension loop and stressing the joy out of life. Many people crave something more, something better, a chance at peace and joy. But we do need to address our negative tendencies before we can truly cultivate the positive. Here is a passage from my new, soon to be released book – Seeds of mindfulness (Dover press) – that can help clear the path.
The negative clearance trick. As every gardener knows when you rake a fine tilt over the surface of your soil in order to sow your ornamental or vegetable seed, you can turn up to the surface some weed seeds and they too can germinate within your fresh sowed rows. You can end up with more corn poppy than corn or more nettle than nasturtiums.
You can get disparaged by this, so some gardeners pull a trick to clear the weed seed out first; they rake the ground a week before they intend to sow their crops, allowing the weeds to surface, germinate and expend their energy into new growth then hoe them off before sowing their profitable seed. We are not called Homo sapiens (wise human) for nothing.
Clearing the negative is not encouraging or indulging in negative thinking it is seeing the weeds for what they are – unproductive. And no matter how well you tend your garden there is always the possibility of a newly sprung weed. I may cultivate compassion and rational understanding but I am not immune to a twinge of anger around social injustice, I don’t have to feed it, just see it for what it is whenever it sprouts.
Often when we start a healing or self-dedicating task, our mind’s turbulence or socialised psychology can turn up weed thoughts and disincentives – “is this right for me”, “can I do this”, “you are hopeless”, “am I wasting my time”, “cop on to yourself”, “how am I going to keep this up” etc. Let all that arise then hoe each one off. Now we are free to sow, to sow the positive; “it is right for me”, “I can do this”, “this is the best use of my time”, etc . Positive affirmations yes but also the truth.
We have a natural bias towards a negative bias but with mindfulness we can also sow a positive bias – and yes it will thrive like a garden of all the ages.
Weeding the negative bias. Evolution has provided our minds with a negative bias – a caution reflex; literally to ‘think before you leap’ in case that gap between this side of the chasm and the green grass on the other side is just one stride too far and we fall to our death or despair. Those who ran and jumped without taking the time to think or at least build up some ‘running momentum’ got quickly removed from the gene pool. The worriers hung around and multiplied.
So doubting or having some ‘hang on a minute’ thoughts is a good thing. Except when they are not so much ‘life or death’ scenarios but intrude upon a life in pursuit of being fulfilled or worse make a life unfulfilled. We can learn to witness and even appreciate those butterflies in the belly or the ‘no way’ thought but also see beyond to where the rope bridge across is a better option.
We don’t have to weed every non-enthusiastic thought – some of them are more wildflowers than weeds but don’t fret that because mindfulness gifts the clarity to know the difference. The more we practice the more we find clarity. We will see what is holding us back and what is saving our life. Overtime we will edit out the weeds and let the wildflowers be reminders of our beautiful human nature – cautious but also courageous.