Despite years of meditation and an engagement in spiritual practice, as well as a general self perception of being “open-minded”, I find myself to be a rather negative person. I often catch myself acknowledging immediately upon experiencing or thinking something, “What could go wrong in this scenario?” This sort-of pessimism is useful to an extent. It helps us solve problems and see the world with a critical eye. But there’s a balance required.
Meditation has helped me recognize when I’m constantly reverting to negativity and thinking, “Wait a second— there’s nothing “wrong” here. I’m inventing a problem so that I can solve it.” When we invent problems just to solve them, it gives us a sort of high. We enjoy the feeling that we’ve accomplished something. But, if we’re not careful, this can lead down a spiral of constant negativity and problem-solving just for the hell of it. Before we know it, everything in life becomes some sort of burden that must be addressed!
The irony is that nothing in life is objectively a burden. Our problems are always put in perspective when we realize that someone else somewhere else is suffering more than we are, that our issues with life, though shared, are often deeply personal. If our mode of operation is to immediately go to the negative, then we end up living a life full of problems that don’t exist. Most of our problems are those we create for ourselves, and if we had a taste of someone else’s life, we might approach our own differently.
Every once in a while, try to meditate with an empathetic mindset. Buddhism asks us to develop compassion not just because it makes us kinder to others, but also because it makes us kinder to ourselves. It’s fine to be a questioner and a critic from time to time, but if we are constantly assaulting the world with our value judgements and criticisms, we get worn out. We turn these judgements on ourselves and experience our own wrath, and it usually isn’t pretty.
Make a list of qualities and things you’re grateful for. It can be anything. This is a simple exercise but it reminds us of the good in life. Our distinctions between good and bad are usually arbitrary, and the longer we develop them without reflection, the harder it becomes to revert back to a neutral mindset. I find meditation helps cultivate this neutral mindset, but it also requires some mental work in the day-to-day. The next time you find yourself negating or criticizing, try to see the other side of the equation, and then transcend both ideas. This is the essence of Zen. It helps us to calm down and just let life unfold.