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I’m very picky about what happens on this Blog – you knew that. Right? And today I’m really blessed to have as my guest Alisa Bowman.
Alisa is brilliant, funny and generous. Want to know more? You’ll find it below.
Lately whenever I commit an Act of Negativity—say I lock the puppy in her crate because she just chewed my favorite pair of shoes—my kid quietly commentates, “That wasn’t very Buddhist, Mommy.”
She says this whenever I grumble about other drivers, become impatient while standing in line, or say something nasty about a certain politician. She finds at least one opportunity a day to admonish me. It’s humbling, but also beautiful. After all, not only does her comment remind me of my personal goals, it also brings a smile to my face, forcing me to laugh and admit, “You’re right. That wasn’t very Buddhist at all!”
I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that most of us want to be good people. After all, I don’t meet too many people whose daily mantra is, “Evil rocks!” Sure we all might define “good” in different ways, but the following virtues seem to be pretty universal: honesty, compassion, kindness, humility, generosity, patience, and the courage to stand up for the oppressed. Personally, I try to boil all of that down into this simple mantra: Spread happiness; Alleviate suffering.
It’s, of course, one thing to believe this mantra. It’s quite another to practice it. So much negativity gets in the way, and much of this negativity feels so dang justified. Yet, it rarely, if ever, is.
Consider the following negativity traps:
Negativity Trap #1: Disconnecting.
This happens when we see an entire group of people as unworthy of our help. We close our hearts to such people. Rather than digging deep to find empathy, compassion or understanding, we tell ourselves things like, “They need to work hard, just as I did” or “Why should I be kind to people who are so mean?” Rather than see people as individuals—all of whom have their own stories and struggles—we write a false story about them in our minds and we cling to that story, despite evidence to the contrary.
The antidote, of course, is connection. Get to know your neighbors. Ask questions. Really and truly listen to the answers. Find and see the good in others rather than fixate only on the bad. Understand their reality rather than blind yourself to it and spin a piece of fiction in its place.
Negativity Trap #2: Blaming.
You’ve probably heard the expression, “When you point a finger, there are three fingers pointing back at you.” It’s very similar to a well-known teaching from Atisha: “Do not look for faults in others, but look for faults in yourself, and purge them like bad blood.” The thing is, it’s a lot easier to see what’s wrong with other people, isn’t it? It’s harder to see our own anger, impatience, envy, pride, greed, laziness, unkind ways, gossipy nature, and so on. That’s why, whenever I find myself thinking critical thoughts about someone else, I take a moment to reflect. I ask myself, “What does this negativity say about you?” I sit with that question until I arrive at an answer. Usually it’s quite humbling.
Negativity Trap #3: Complaining
Most of us complain about what we have no power to change: the weather, the price of groceries, other drivers, and so forth. While some of it might be justified, complaining never leads to happiness. Here’s more: complaining usually arises out of idleness. When you are busy changing the world, you often don’t have time to complain. When I find myself complaining, I ask myself, “What can I change? How can I improve my circumstances? What can I do to make the world a better place?” Usually the answer lies in spreading happiness—in being kind to every person I meet. I can’t control the price of groceries, but I can smile at the person who rings them up and offer to bag them myself.
Negativity Trap #4: Should-ing.
I should meditate. I should be more generous. I should be more understanding.
That one simple word makes everything sound and feel much more difficult than it really is. Should invites resistance over for dinner and then a sleep over. Eventually the two intertwine and produce guilt babies if you are not careful. Change the word “should” to “want.” Do you really want to be more patient or understanding or kind? Want courts effort and, with enough effort, everything is possible.
Now you know why Alisa is my guest today. 🙂
Encourage one another.
Alisa is one busy bee:
A journalist and ghost writer, she’s co authored more than 30 books, seven of which have been bestsellers.
She runs and practices yoga, teaches meditation and takes Dharma classes.
And best of all, to me, she says that love is the periodic table for her life. “I try to spread happiness in every interaction, with some moments being more successful than others.”