Mindfulness can be used to relieve suffering. It can help get relief from stress, anxiety, depression or other various mental health problems.
But how does it relieve us from suffering? Is it some sort of positive visualization technique?
The Age of Positivity
It can be said that we live in the age of positivity. There is a lot of awareness about positivity.
Finally, there is a realization in psychology that in the past it over emphasized negative psychology. It focused more on a disease model rather than a health model.
The approach psychology took was that one has to first go from the negative to the zero before one can start talking about positive. In other words, there was no place for positive until the disease was present.
A depressive person has to first cure the depression before he can experience positive emotions like joy, happiness, and gratitude.
But that is not true. Even while experiencing negative emotions, one can try to practice positive emotions like gratitude and happiness that can actually help you get rid of negative emotions.
It is widely acknowledged that happiness is a learnable skill. It is not something relegated to a privileged few.
There is so much literature out there concerning happiness. You can learn how to become happier and how to be more grateful.
In fact, that is one of the side effects of practicing mindfulness that it can increase your happiness levels.
Duh! It is Obvious
But more importantly, being positive is common sense. You look for positivity in life by your innate nature.
You look for positive changes in your professional life. You look for positive changes in your personal life and relationships.
To look for more positivity is what you do by default. You desire for more positivity in your life and that is just what you do.
If you were to look up the definition of ‘positive’ it comes from the Latin root ‘posit’. Which carries a sense of something explicitly laid down and admitting no questions. A sense of being convinced and being obvious.
It is common sense to seek out what is positive. We seek out positive changes to safeguard out lives. Isn’t that obvious?
Who in the right mind would not do that? Of course, it is.
But Mindfulness Is Awareness.
Let us go back to our original question. Is mindful thinking positive thinking?
Mindful thinking is neither positive thinking nor negative thinking. It is not neutral thinking either.
It is aware thinking.
Awareness is something that transcends good, bad, positive, negative, neutral and so forth.
Awareness transcends all conceptual mental activity. It is beyond all of that.
You can think positively and become aware of that.
You can think negatively and become aware of that.
You can have neutral thoughts and you can become aware of that.
You can have no thoughts and you can be aware of that.
You can have happy thoughts and you can become aware of that.
You can have sad thoughts and you can become aware of that.
You can be euphoric and you can be aware of that, you can be utterly miserable and you can be aware of that.
Awareness is something completely orthogonal to your normal daily thinking. Because it is not thinking.
Actually, there is no mindful thinking. There is mindfulness or awareness. Which is very different compared to thoughts, memories, intentions, and attitudes.
But awareness can become aware of all of that. Awareness can become aware of thoughts, it can become aware of memories.
It can become aware of your intentions and it can also become aware of your attitudes.
It is not anything esoteric. It is something very simple.
It is just that it doesn’t come easy. You experience fleeting moments of awareness, but that is it.
You don’t rest in awareness. You immediate leave and you get involved in conceptual activities or thinking.
There is an alternate lens that you can bring to this question.
Mindful thinking is not positive thinking. But mindfulness invite you to investigate what it is that you call ‘positive’? And by positive, we also mean, what is ‘good’, what is ‘pleasant’ and what is ‘desirable’.
And by positive, we also mean, what is ‘good’, what is ‘pleasant’ and what is ‘desirable’.
What does it really mean by positivity. Although as we talked earlier, positivity is something that is obvious to us and we take it for granted.
Mindfulness invite you to inquire into your relationship with something that you call positive. Let me elaborate a bit more.
There are two possible questions that you can ask.
- Is the positive quality of phenomena, fixed in nature?
- What does it really mean when you characterize something as positive, good or desirable?
Is ‘Positivity’ Always Fixed?
Is something that you feel positive about always remains position? Is the positive quality of phenomena rigid?
Is the positive quality of phenomena rigid or fixed in nature? A thing that is desirable today, is it always going to be desirable? That is not the case.
As a famous Zen master once said.
“In winter a bonfire spells delight. But when summertime arrives what a nuisance it becomes.”
You know it well that what is good, what is positive, what is delightful may not necessarily always remain delightful. Things change.
What Does It Really Mean to be Positive?
The real question is the characterization of a quality as being positive. We said earlier that you take positive, good and desirable for granted.
It is obvious that you want more positive, good and desirable things in life. Mindfulness invites you to notice this.
Rather than taking it for granted, you can notice that there is a set of things that your mind automatically desires.
Like safeguarding the physical well-being. Again you may say that it is such an obvious thing, why wouldn’t anyone in their right mind not try to safeguard their well-being.
Again, the premise of such an argument is taken for granted. To safeguard and to try to live as long as you can is something your brain is designed by evolution to just do.
Things don’t have inherent qualities or meanings but you give them labels or meanings which satisfy your own innate desires or urges. And ‘positivity’ is just one such labeling scheme, which is no different compared to ‘negativity’.
You get this in a completely opposite way. You think that it is completely obvious, justified, natural and given to behaving in ways where you are continuously trying to maximize your physical well-being and safeguarding yourself and trying to prevent you from the harms way.
But in reality, it is the natural selection that has implanted such a drive in your brains that continuously propels you to behave in such a manner. And you can use your mindfulness to take note of that, rather than just being completely identified with it.
It is because of the natural selection that you behave the way you do and that is why you are still here on planet earth and perhaps many other species which didn’t behave in the ways you did, have not survived.
But again, us being still here on planet earth is really a non-event. An event that has no intrinsic quality.
There is nothing special about it. Although your mind would like to think of that as some sort of ‘positive’, ‘proud’ or ‘grandiose’ achievement.
You get it completely wrong. You think you are too good, which is why you are still here.
But in reality, you are here because how you behave and that behavior that helps you to be still here, you call it ‘good’ or ‘positive’ or ‘desirable’.
You being still around could be the most joyous thing for you as a species, but it doesn’t take much difficulty to realize that you being still here has spelled a rather serious disaster for many other species which you may have already wiped out or are about to.
This is something we cannot settle easily. Perhaps I will discuss this more in a separate post to further elaborate the point.
But in the meantime, I welcome your critique, rebukes or comments.