Mindfulness and the Destructive Power of Negativity – An Essential Meditation Lesson

One of the great benefits of meditation is the wisdom that comes from greater mindfulness. While many self-help guides focus on the attainment of idyllic mental states, or on the manifestation of idealized physical realities, in practice it can be far more relevant to learn how to avoid extreme negativity and all the damage it causes in our lives. Conventional mindfulness practices tell us that suffering is inevitable, but our reaction to it is not. Unfortunately, these practices don't recognize the full extent of the damage that can be done by negative reactions - whether justified or not. We may never reach nirvana, but we must learn how to avoid self-destruction.

The Failure of the Self-Help Industry to Fully Understand the Danger of Negativity

Popular books like Rhonda Byrne's The Secret, with their emphasis on creating idealized realities that feature material abundance and happy relationships, have made more people at least ask themselves if their inner, mental activity has some impact on their lives' external conditions. But all this focus on the attainment of materialistic goals, and the debate that ensues about how realistic it is to expect results from manifestation techniques, does us a disservice.

To be truly free as human beings, we need to master the fundamental lesson that our thoughts and feelings create our reality. However, the most effective - and most valuable - way to learn that lesson is not through striving to acquire more possessions. In the grand scheme of things, it isn't really that important what sort of car sits in the driveway if you're not healthy enough to drive it or if you have an accident when you go out on the road. In other words, the avoidance of bad outcomes is a more important goal, albeit a less exciting one.

Mindfulness practitioners are much less concerned with material outcomes than Rhonda Byrne's wing of the self-improvement industry, and they do a much better job of encouraging us to avoid negative thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness exercises generally all aim to make us more aware of the contents of our minds so we can make better choices, and recognition of the fact that we have a choice is itself a huge breakthrough. Unfortunately, conventional mindfulness practices do not acknowledge the creative power of thoughts and emotions in the physical world. Consequently, they don't do enough to protect us from the damage that we can inflict upon ourselves if we're not careful.

How to Become Your Own Self-Insurance Agent

The kind of mindfulness we need is one that doesn't just become aware of what we're thinking and feeling - what we're doing inside - but also shows us the connections between those inner actions and outer results. Those skeptics who dismiss New Age creation principles on the grounds that they are little more than superstitions or magical thinking have no idea how much they are hurting themselves by failing to examine this process. Sadly, the results of the inner creative process, by which thoughts and emotions translate themselves into concrete outer realities, are much easier to see when personal disasters occur. In fact, it was largely through the analysis of bad experiences that I came to understand how I created my own reality.

Negative emotions, partly for reasons of evolutionary biology, tend to be much more powerful and persistent than positive emotions. Rick Hanson refers to this as the "negativity bias." We all have dark pools in which we like to wallow, and the more time we spend in them the more damage we are going to do - to ourselves and, potentially, to those around us. When a bad thing happens, it is common for us to dwell on it at length, rehashing it in our minds. The emotions generated by these vivid and highly-charged memories can be extremely powerful - enough, in fact, to set in motion creative forces that will bring us more experiences of the same quality. And thus we set ourselves up for a negative snowball effect, with further bad experiences reinforcing the very beliefs and emotions that gave rise to them, and making it even harder to break out of a cycle of negativity and despair. These are the times when, truly, life is a you-know-what.

It continues to puzzle and disappoint me that mindfulness teachers like Rick Hanson - who offer so much genuinely useful advice on attaining healthier mental states - fail to take their awareness to the next level and perceive the outer consequences of poor, uncontrolled thinking. I fully realize that this concept goes against everything we have been led to believe about the nature of reality, but when you really pay attention, and see yourself getting burned over and over again by particular patterns of thought giving rise to real-world problems, then the causal connection can no longer be denied.

Full awareness of the very real damage that can be caused by negativity is the ultimate incentive to manage one's thoughts and feelings more prudently. It's all well and good to want to be as highly evolved as the Buddha, but it's another thing altogether to want to avoid accidents or violent confrontations with other people. Mindfulness, then, can be the ultimate self-insurance policy - the only real way to protect yourself from the worst that life has to offer.

The approach to mindfulness suggested here sooner or later leads to one of the thorniest questions in the self-help industry - the issue of blaming yourself for everything that is wrong in your life. Because that problem is in fact a potent example of the power of negativity, and one you might run into yourself, I strongly recommend that you read the following discussion on blaming the victim.

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