Swami Veda’s exact words escape me now, so many years later, although I can almost hear his voice saying them. He was sitting on the floor at his little desk, involved in some work, upstairs in his cottage at Swami Rama’s Rishikesh Ashram. I had walked into the room, and apparently picking on up my mood, he turned to face me and said something like, “I don’t know why you people want to suffer so much.” He’d said things like that to me before. I took it to mean I was creating my own suffering, but at the time was clueless as to how I was doing so. I just knew I wasn’t happy. Today, maybe twenty years later, a light went on in my mind as to what he meant.
That’s one of the gifts of having spent time with a great teacher like Swami Veda. Although his words didn’t click in the moment, years later those words are suddenly remembered and bring meaning.
Although I’ve known it for a while, today it really hit me that I have a habit of focusing almost exclusively on the negative—on what’s not right and what could go wrong. Sure, I notice beauty and pleasant things too, but my mind’s habit is to scan for, and dote on, the negative. Then I recalled a teaching by Swami Veda that it is common to focus exclusively on the negatives but doing so creates misery. Instead, he suggested noticing what’s right in the world.
Maybe it’s a natural human tendency to focus on what could go wrong to preserve life and health. There is sense to this: One does need to spot a hole in the road so as not to fall into it. But one can be aware of the hole in the road without doing so exclusively or obsessively. While being aware of that hole, it’s possible to also enjoy the scenery, relationships, and the pure joy of living. The problem arises when the negative scan becomes the dominant feature of the way one lives. Then the joy gets sucked out of life.
I’ve scanned for dangers since I was a child. Looking back, I believe my parents did the same. But it’s possible to form a new habit. Doing so might feel wrong at first, but with motivation and consistent practice, such resistance is overcome, and progress can be made.
So, I am undertaking a month-long practice of noticing the positives in each moment. To assist with this practice, I plan to take a few minutes each evening to keep track of how I did with the practice that day in a journal; this will serve both as a reminder and a motivator. If you’d like to share this practice with me, please let me know. I’d be happy to have companionship on this journey and would even be willing to facilitate a practice group to work on this together if there is sufficient interest.