Nathan recently drew attention to “excessive positivity” found in many yoga communities. My sense is that such chatter, along with “OMG” and “totally awesome,” reflects an undercurrent of suffering. What, for instance, do people mean when they toss me an “it’s all good” response to a personal lament? Do they truly believe that everything is flawless, that there’s no pain, depression, and loneliness in their world? I think not. I sense something unhealthy – disillusionment and sadness perhaps — dressed up as aggressive graffiti, mindless texting, and disfiguring tattoos.
The Encyclopaedia of Mental Disorders describes denial as “the refusal to acknowledge the existence or severity of unpleasant external realities or internal thoughts and feelings.” It’s easy to detect denial in my life, starting with what’s right before me. I know, for instance, that too much sugar in my diet is potentially life-shortening, yet I give in to cravings regularly. I also know that not keeping up correspondence with overseas friends and family bothers my conscience and alienates me from people who care for me, yet letters sit unanswered for months. There are potentially more harmful instances which I won’t admit to publicly.
“The closer you look, the more clearly you see that denial is part of the uneasy bargain we strike to be social creatures,” a psychologist is quoted in the NY Times. The same article claims that
In the modern vernacular, to say someone is “in denial” is to deliver a savage combination punch: one shot to the belly for the cheating or drinking or bad behaviour, and another slap to the head for the cowardly self-deception of pretending it’s not a problem.
One of the Buddhist precepts I vowed to uphold is to “avoid lying, hurtful speech, and harmful thought.” Is that even possible?