Over a life time we acquire many beliefs and behaviours that are unhealthy. We can even pinpoint their origin. For me they’re grounded in family dynamics, unprocessed losses, uneven role models, scarcity of food, lack of intimacy, abusive pedagogic practices, self-inflicted suffering, and so on. I know about them, at least by name. I also know that negative experiences can lead to pessimism, negativity, and hyper-sensitivity.
It’s one thing to “welcome everything” (as meditation teachers suggest), but quite another to get out from under these ingrained patterns. Neuroscientists tell us that the brain has a built-in negativity bias which primes us for suffering. “It generates an unpleasant background of anxiety … [which] makes it harder to bring attention inward for self-awareness and contemplative practice … since the brain keeps scanning to make sure there is no problem” (Hansen, p. 42). And, by way of an antidote, “small positive actions every day will add up to large changes over time, as you gradually build new neural structures” (p. 18).
In the days ahead I will pay attention when the negativity bias kicks in. I’ll similarly watch for small positive actions. In my hospital work, for instance, I can ask, What’s going on right now? when I enter a patient’s room and find, as I do consistently, that my worries fall away and I’m filled with compassion.
source: Hansen, R. (2009). Buddha’s brain: the practical neuroscience of happiness, love, and wisdom. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger. images: psychcentral.com (top); upaya.org.