The way out of negative thinking is to make a commitment to loving kindness, and make sure that you are also a recipient of it, says SADHVI BHAGAWATI SARASWATI

Negative thinking is a tragic pattern that many of us fall prey to. Sadly, we do it because we’ve been programmed to do it.

One part of the problem stems from our basic culture of education and discipline, which is a system based on punishments rather than rewards. The children who do well and behave are ignored, while the kids who cause problems are the ones who get all the attention. So, we don’t hear and learn positive ways of thinking and identifying, but the negative ones are emphasized. Whenever we make a mistake we hear, ‘You’re stupid, you’re bad, you’re this, you’re that,’ and we internalize the message and also the voice.

The other part of the problem comes from the rest of the culture — media, politics, and other influences around us — that are rooted in and founded upon convincing us that we are lacking something in our lives which they are going to fulfil. This is called marketing. If you already have everything, how am I going to sell you something? I need you to feel that there is something missing in you, which my product is going to solve. This is how advertising works.

Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati of Parmarth Niketan Ashram, Rishikesh

Look at car commercials. They’re selling freedom, driving off into the horizon. How many among us feel stuck in our jobs or other aspects of our lives? We see the commercial and we say to ourselves, ‘God, freedom looks so good. If I just had that car, I too could drive off into the sunset. Leave everything behind.’ They’re not selling airbags, brakes and seat comfort; they’re selling freedom, romance. Want to sell a sports car? The guy with the car has the beautiful lady. Want to sell an SUV? Kids in the back seat are singing together. While your own kids try to strangle each other in the back seat, the subliminal message of the commercial is that you have the wrong model of car. But if you buy this SUV, your kids too will sing in the back seat.

So, through marketing and advertising, we are indoctrinated and brainwashed to believe that: a) we’re not enough, and there’s something wrong with us, b) these people have what we need and c) we’re running out of time. Now that ploy sounds very superficial, and even if we don’t internalize the message about the car, we do internalize the message that we are not enough. And we project that in our lives, so thoughts of lack plague our minds.

The way to deal with negative thoughts is to, first of all, make a commitment to practice compassion in your life and make sure that that commitment includes you. Make a commitment to loving kindness, and make sure that you are also a recipient of it.

Second, identify the voices. As the negative voice comes into your mind, ask, ‘Who are you? Are you a commercial, are you my fifth-grade teacher, are you my mother who always asks, “Why can’t you be like your sister?”’ We internalized negative messaging somewhere.

Another major aspect is that we also internalize the cultural message that our value and worth are inextricably linked with how much money we make, how high we have climbed on the career ladder

Today, sadly, living a normal life has become sort of substandard. It’s all about what we’re going to do that has never been done before, what we’re going to do that sets us apart. 

Look at your parents, your grandparents. Did anybody’s grandmother do something that nobody had ever done before? No. She wanted to raise a family and cook a great meal that would feed her family, and maybe have a garden. That was enough. Maybe do some charity. Today, you’ve got to do it all.

Today in order to feel accomplished, you’ve got to have a career, raise a family, take care of your health, squeeze your own organic juice, get to the gym, meditate, do yoga and stay peaceful and loving and happy while you do it all. We’ve created standards that none of us can possibly achieve.

But the good news is that when we look closely at these internalized messages and indoctrinated sense of not-enoughness, it tends to dissipate. We can look at it and say, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe I’ve got sucked into believing that, I can’t believe I’ve been brainwashed.’ We can just look in and recognize we are enough. It’s not about what you do, it’s about who you are. If who you are is compassionate and loving and kind, it’s a fantastic achievement. Just remember to extend it to yourself.

Sadhvi  Bhagawati Saraswati, a Ph.D in Psychology, raised in an American family in Hollywood, California, was the Managing Editor for the monumental project of the 11-volume Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Her TEDx talk on her journey from “Hollywood to the HolyWoods” was watched by over 287,000 people and the documentary on her life was viewed online by nearly a quarter of a million people. Officially initiated into the order of Sanyas in the year 2000, she has been living at Parmarth Niketan in Rishikesh for 25 years, engaged in spiritual practice and service.

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Featured photo from by Nadezhda Moryak