Our Genetic Conditioning: The Negativity Bias of the Brain
Evolution has built this negativity bias into our brains to help us survive, but this genetic programming isn’t such an ideal trait for predisposing us towards happiness. On top of that common layer affecting all members of the human race, modern Western values and lifestyles adds another dimension of unique challenges. Western cultures train people to have this mentality of constant improvement. It’s a powerful tool if used and put down consciously. Yet too many of us have lost our capacity for contentment. Ironically, we’ve somehow managed to lose this at a time when, historically, we’ve never had more! But more of what is the question…
Focusing on Abundance
Eastern religious teachings often remind us to come back to a sense of abundance in each moment–the feeling that nothing in this moment is missing. I would invite you to try to start consciously connecting with a feeling of abundance in your life. Start with an easy, pleasant experience before gradually moving up to trying it in a more challenging situation.
When you do so you might observe that it’s not as easy as one would think. Our minds are built to gravitate towards the flaws:
“Oh this is such a beautiful night and the weather is perfect and this wine taste great.” Then your mind starts running through different ways that we could make this just a little bit better. If only…[fill in the blank]: “If only the weather was a bit warmer,” “if only the wine was a bit colder,” “if only ‘so and so’ was here.’”
Then the mind starts comparing: “this is really beautiful; it’s almost as good as”…”Remember that time we went to…”…”Have you ever been to Yosemite?”
There really is no end to this game. It’s part of the human condition and we all experience this regardless of our culture. But when we haven’t been taught how to train the mind we fall into these traps that much more easily. And when we’re not cognizant of a cultural conditioning that has shaped our minds to scan for what’s lacking we need to make that much more of an effort to let go of this tendency for our own benefit as well as for those around us.
Solving problems displays so much of what’s special and awesome about human beings. Intelligence is our comparative advantage as a species and our unique contribution to life on this earth. Employing intelligence also necessarily involves the ego.
We need an ego to function in day to day life on this earth but without diligent awareness our egos manifest in a variety of ways that cut us off from others and from our true nature. The need to know, the urge to feel right(eous), that desire for security–”once I understand the world, then I don’t have to live in fear of it”–underpins so many of our actions.
When we learn to fundamentally accept that so much of life is out of our control, when we begin to touch the state of pure consciousness that lies beyond our ordinary conceptual minds, then we start to surf more smoothly in the ocean of consciousness instead of getting tossed around by the waves of thought.
A broad spectrum of religions provide insight into this more open, light hearted approach to life. Moving in harmony with nature was at the core teaching of most societies on earth, a sensical approach which Western modern materialist thought spurned in its desire to dominate other peoples and the environment.
Dropping the ego and learning to surrender seems to be a core teaching of every major religion. It’s at the heart of every Eastern religion. It’s at the core of what Jesus taught. The word “Islam” is often translated as “submission” or “surrender.” It’s about accepting what we know, what we don’t know, and having the courage to know the difference–to paraphrase the secularly appropriate “Serenity Prayer.”
Surrender is at the heart of living life as a mystery to be experienced, not as a problem to be solved. Recognize the need for our capacity for wonder, acknowledge where it’s missing and create opportunities to reconnect to our sense of awe in a way that rings authentic and true for you.
As Rumi writes: “there are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground; there a thousand ways to go home.”