The Power of Negative Thinking

Posted on: March 10th, 2015 by The Mindfulness Movie

From the book 10% Happier…

 

Dan Harris, of Good Morning America and World News learned mindfulness the hard way and has an interesting real life twist…

 

“… Pretty quickly, my efforts began to bear fruit “off the cushion,” to use a Buddhist term of art. I started to be able to use the breath to jolt myself back to the present moment— in airport security lines, waiting for elevators, you name it. I found it to be a surprisingly satisfying exercise. Life became a little bit like walking into a familiar room where all the furniture had been rearranged. And I was much better at forgiving myself out in the real world than while actually meditating. Every moment was an opportunity for a do-over. A million mulligans … Now I started to see life’s in-between moments —sitting at a red light, waiting for mycrew to get set up for an interview— as a chance to focus on my breath, or just take in my surroundings. As soon as I began playing this game, I really noticed how much sleepwalking I did, how powerfully my mind propelled me forward or backward. Mostly, I saw the world through a scrim of skittering thoughts, which created a kind of buffer between me and reality.

 

…The net effect of meditation, plus trying to stay present during my daily life, was striking. It was like anchoring myself to an underground aquifer of calm. It became a way to steel myself as I moved through the world. On Sunday nights, in the seconds right before the start of World News, I would take a few deep breaths and look around the room— out at the milling stage crew, up at the ceiling rigged with lights— grounding myself in reality before launching into the unreality of bellowing into a camera with unseen millions behind it. All of this was great, of course, but as it turns out, it wasn’t actually the main point.

 

Buddhism’s secret sauce went by a hopelessly anodyne name: “mindfulness.” In a nutshell, mindfulness is the ability to recognize what is happening in your mind right now— anger, jealousy, sadness, the pain of a stubbed toe, whatever— without getting carried away by it. According to the Buddha, we have three habitual responses to everything we experience. We want it, reject it, or we zone out. Cookies: I want. Mosquitoes: I reject. The safety instructions the flight attendants read aloud on an airplane: I zone out. Mindfulness is a fourth option, a way to view the contents of our mind with nonjudgmental remove. I found this theory elegant, but utterly unfeasible. On the cushion, the best opportunities to learn mindfulness are when you experience itches or pain. Instead of scratching or shifting position, you’re supposed to just sit there and impartially witness the discomfort.
… It was easy to see how scalable mindfulness could be. For instance, it’d be late in the day, and I’d get a call from the World News rim telling me the story I’d spent hours scrambling to produce was no longer going to air in tonight’s show. My usual response was to think to myself, I’m angry. Reflexively, I would then fully inhabit that thought— and actually become angry. I would then give the person on the other end of the line some unnecessary chin music, even though I knew intellectually that they usually had a very good reason for killing the piece. In the end, I was left feeling bad about having expended energy on a story that didn’t air, and also feeling guilty for having been needlessly salty.

 

The point of mindfulness was to short-circuit what had always been a habitual, mindless chain reaction. Once I started thinking about how this whole system of seemingly spontaneous psychological combustion worked, I realized how blindly impelled— impaled, even— I was by my ego. I spent so much time, as one Buddhist writer put it, “drifting unaware on a surge of habitual impulses.” This is what led me on the misadventures of war, drugs, and panic. It’s what propelled me to eat when I wasn’t hungry or get snippy with Bianca because I was stewing about something that happened in the office. Mindfulness represented an alternative to living reactively. This was not some mental parlor trick. Mindfulness is an inborn trait, a birthright.”