True will IS willingness.
--unknown Sufi poet
Where else can you live and have a portable heater and a cooling fan in the same room at the same time? LOVE that constantly changing San Francisco weather. This polar opposition reminds me of the term, pradipaksha bhavanam, from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (II:33), the ancient text on which many contemporary yoga practices rely. When I first heard it and tried to understand it, it sent me into a tailspin because of its meaning: to turn your thoughts around. It seemed trite, somehow cute and superficial. Seriously, if I have a negative thought, you are telling me that I can turn it into a positive one? What if I don’t BELIEVE it to be positive?
Well almost 1200 years later, science has finally caught up to Yoga wisdom. There is indeed evidence that if you say it until you mean it you can actually create meaningful changes in the brain. Evidently, we are naturally wired to default to negative thoughts. It doesn’t mean that we are bad people but simply that in our history as human beings, having a negative thought/reaction to many situations might have saved our lives. Fortunately, today, the impending deadline at work that causes us stress and negative thoughts doesn’t equate to the salivating predator waiting outside the cave to have us for dinner. Our deep-seated neural pathways have been historically conditioned based on our samskara (implicit memories) to react a certain way to stress triggers. Sometimes in yoga we call our default reactions to certain situations grooves or habits. For example, we might habitually react in a negative way when a car pulls aggressively in front of us or if we come home to find dishes in the sink.
So, how do we create new neural pathways so that we can, instead, default to the positive? PRADIPAKSHA BHAVANAM. Turning thoughts from negative to positive creates new neural pathways that are strengthened every time we enact this simple practice. It may not be a smooth as it sounds…it may be more like:
· being present with the fact that you are having negative associations with a certain condition (likely a condition that you have experienced before);
· you realize that you are beginning to react;
· you realize that you have a choice of how you react;
· you don’t react but gracefully accept the condition and move on.
The more we do it, the more our minds will default to non-reactive and even positive feelings to conditions that have previously been triggers for negativity/stress. Try it and you will find that slowly but surely when the same condition arises you don’t have any reaction at all but you simply move straight to graceful acceptance.
Even with my initial skepticism, I tried pradipaksha bhavanam before I knew the science behind it and found that it really does work…with mindfulness, willingness and an open heart :)
Inspiration for this post and for further reading on the subject:
Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom by Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius (Nov 1, 2009)
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Translation and Commentary by Baba Hari Dass (2008)