The Athlete's Way

Sweat and the biology of bliss

Simple Ways to Turn Negativity into Self-Nourishment

You can turn negative people into nourishment for your soul.

There is a German word called “Schadenfreude” which means to take pleasure in other people’s misfortune. Sometimes it feels that people who are dissatisfied in their own lives target people who seem happy and try to derail them. Have you ever experienced what Morrissey sang about in the song titled “We hate it when our friends become successful”? I have.

Darkness Cannot Drive Out Darkness

Martin Luther King, Jr. said famously, "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." This is a mantra that I rely on to incinerate negativity with kindness and light. Try reciting these words the next time you are tempted to drive out hate with more hate.

We all know how negativity eats you up from the inside out. It is a toxic emotion that wreaks havoc on your system by raising cortisol and decreasing vagal tone. Deep breathing is always the first line of defense to maintain an evenness of temper and break the cycle of fighting negativity with more negativity.

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Another trick that I use to maintain equanimity and evenness of temper when being treated negatively is to remember Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth. In every person’s journey you will face people who test your ability to remain magnanimous. Throughout the various stages of the “Monomyth” on the hero’s journey negative people will appear to test you. If you are able to maintain equanimity and not become reactive you will proceed to a higher place in your life. If you succumb to their negativity by becoming negative too, they win. And you lose.  

Whenever I am exposed to really negative people I find it helpful to go back to the wisdom held in the writings of Buddhist monk Shunryu Suzuki. His book "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mindis a must read. I refer back to his writings any time I feel I might stoop to the lowest common denominator and make the mistake of fighting darkness with more darkness. Shunryu Suzuki says:

Strictly speaking, the effort we make is not good because that is a kind of waves of our mind, but it is impossible to attain absolute calmness of your mind without any effort. You must make some effort, but we must forget ourselves in the effort we make. In this kind of realm you have no subjectivity or objectivity. Your mind is just calm, without even any awareness. And in this unawareness every effort and every idea and thought will vanish. So it is necessary for us to encourage ourselves, and to make effort to the last minute where we have no effort -- continue our effort forever, and when we continue our effort we should not expect some stage when we will forget all about it. We should just try to keep our mind on our breathing. That is actual practice. And that effort will be refined, more and more, while you are sitting

Conclusion: Mind Creates Reality Neurobiologically

Buddhist monks are sages of mindfulness and the importance of dedicated practice but anyone can use mindfulness to turn negativity into self-nourishment.

The daily act of removing negativity as part of loving-kindness meditation triggers neural darwinism. Visualize the neurons of people who illicit negative thoughts or feelings inside you as weeds that you  incinerate to create positive energy and self-nourishment. Incinerating the negative thoughts will incinerate the negative neurons and make the positive neural connections in your mind stronger and more abundant. Dwelling and holding on to negative thoughts nourishes those networks and wires them together more strongly.

Try to consciously visualize negative and dark thoughts transforming into light. As you feel the negativity melt away picture a bonfire of happiness in your spine as the circuitry of positive thoughts explodes and obliterates the darkness in your soul. Anyone can turn negativity into self-nourishment with a little mindfulness training and visualization.

Christopher Bergland is a world-class endurance athlete, coach, author, and political activist.

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