When we were kids my mom made us amazing birthday cakes. One year my mom made my dad a birthday cake that looked like Superman. At the time, aside from the physique (sorry dad) my dad looked a lot like the character. Maybe more the Clark Kent version, but still, he had the black hair that slightly curled across his forehead.
Fast forwarding almost 20 years, I also remember coming home for a college break and thinking my dad had transformed before my own eyes from Superman to a grey haired man. It was like I blinked and he grew old. Fast forward another 20 years and we are in present day. He’s now in his 70’s, and thankfully healthy.
I am not the daughter that speaks to her parents daily, but I am lucky to have a great relationship with my parents and we talk regularly throughout any given month. Now, though, the call is different. Each time I see the phone ring, I immediately think, “something’s wrong.” I jump to a worst case scenario in my imagination over the 3 seconds it takes for me to pick up the phone, push the green answer button, and say, “hello?”. I wonder, “who’s dead,” or “what is the diagnosis”? Yet, somehow, and with great thanks, and respect to those of you who have lost your parents, they are totally fine. They are just calling to say “hi” or to check in on us.
Humans are programed over thousands of years of training to seek and prepare for danger. This is fight, flight or freeze. It is basic human nature. It is a basic manner of survival. We are prewired to prepare for bad news. It is just part of us. We walk down the street thinking all our fellow humans may harm us. We helicopter over our babies because we do not trust those around us. We worry that our children cannot manage life on their own due to all the possible dangers they may cross. We are scared often. We are even scared to take risks from writing a blog to changing careers due to the potential dangers we imagine could happen. We are consumed with the negative feedback we may receive or that the interview will go poorly.
Current society capitalizes on this human nature and in turn reinforces the negative outlook on life. Just listen to the news, “Tune in at 10 when we tell you what to steer clear of at your local grocery store.” We obsess after hearing a headline like this, fearful of our own pantries and tune in at 10 to find out that the headline was only a tease. Politicians paint a dreary picture hoping to capitalize on your vote. Even products use this inborn fear to sell us their products. We do it at the soccer field as we watch our children practice gossiping with our fellow soccer parents about the imminent dangers in our world.
Research shows that only 3 minutes of negative news can put our minds into a negative state for the entire day only to be restored with a good night’s sleep. 3 minutes. Most of us wake up to news radio, or eat breakfast with a news show playing in the background. This morning routine keeps our fear present and alive as if it rules us. Fear and negativity set the stage then for the course of the rest of the day. We might think things like: my presentation will go wrong, or the letter that I write will be unwelcome, or the job I have is too hard and overwhelming, or even the person I visit with will be mad at me. This is what it is like to live in fear and negativity. Until we think about it, we may not even realize we are thinking like this all the time.
In the study of meditation, this negative outlook becomes just that, an outlook. Through practice, one can counter both the fear of our human nature as well as diminish the effects of modern day’s efforts to scare us. Meditation forces us to note our thoughts as just that, thoughts. So if we can “note” that our fear is imagined and not real, that can help us live a more happy life. We can “let go” of the thought, and decide to have an optimistic outlook. Being in the present and not in the land of our crazy imagination can also help ground us into what is really happening, and not in the negative storyline. We can realize that the interview has not yet occured and so I have not yet failed. Or I can realize that the conversation with someone I have conflict with has not yet happened and so it may actually go well. Meditation calms your mind and allows you to watch the news without allowing the negativity to sweep you away for the entire day. You don’t experience a negative story with any less empathy or sadness, but you can allow yourself to move forward as you choose, not as the negativity will choose for you.
On a more profound stage, people of faith can let fear and negativity go more easily due to their trust in their belief system. This is another thing my mom and dad are, faithful. I will work to expect through faith and a calm mind that Superman is calling on the phone and not an old man the next time it rings.