The Roots of Suffering
I'd like to share some salient points from Buddha's Brain that resonated with me as I was reading. I find this perspective incredibly helpful in understanding and dealing with negativity that inevitably arises in our lives, whether real or perceived.
A little background: Over the millennia, our species has become remarkably successful at survival, mostly by adhering to a few simple ground rules:
1) Maintain separate states. In a nutshell; focus on yourself as an individual, watch out for yourself
2) Maintain overall stability - physical and emotional homeostasis
3) Approach positive stimuli, avoid negative stimuli (physical and emotional)
Any deviation from the above, and you quickly feel a sense of discomfort and negativity, which compels you to correct the situation so that you're back in the mental and physical "safe zone". These tactics are genius for basic survival - they are 100% effective in helping you avoid being eaten alive by a tiger. Or run over by a car, or being mugged, if you want more modern examples.
But in reality:
1) We are not separate for each other. Everything in the world is intimately connected
2) Physical and emotional states are constantly in flux; everything is dynamic, constantly changing
3) The positive things we chase after, by definition, cannot last forever. And the negative ones are often inescapable
The bottom line? We continue to physically survive, often at the expense of our emotional health. Of course we need certain alarms to sound when things are off-kilter to the point of threatening our survival. But unfortunately, the alarms don't distinguish between real threatened survival (chased by a lion) and and the kinds of low-level threats we generally face today (ie. a looming deadline, presentation, or a fight with a friend). The body has only one stress response, and it's either on or off. When the alarm bells ring continuously, out of proportion to the threat, it's a setup for a whole lot of unnecessary suffering. To make things more difficult, humans have complex brains that allow us think in the past, present, and future, allowing us to worry and ruminate.
Negativity is unavoidable. But that's ok - we don't have to hold onto it (suffer). Just as positive experiences can't last forever, neither can negative ones. The neural traffic that makes up our minds is just as fleeting as every other physical state in our bodies; cells constantly turn over, your heartbeat varies from moment to moment. There's no use getting caught up in any one single mental state. Sooner or later, it will dissociate, evaporate, vanish - and that, in and of itself, is a comfort. Next time, I'll share some things I've found helpful in alleviating some of the day-to-day stress and negativity that we all experience.
Thanks for reading, and have a lovely week.