linking negative experiences with positive ones

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linking negative experiences with positive ones

Post by HandsomeMonkeyking » Wed Apr 25, 2018 7:28 pm

I have been reading 'Hardwiring Happiness' a book by Rick Hanson.

In it he mentions a 4 step process:
- Have a positive experience
- Enrich it
- Absorb it
- Link positive and negative material

I'm interested in the last one, linking.

He writes:
While having a vivid and stable sense of a positive experience in the foreground of awareness, also be aware of something negative in the background. For example when you feel included and liked these days, you could sense this experience making contact with feelings of loneliness from your past. If the negative material hijacks your attention, drop it and focus only on the positive. [...] Then, to continue uprooting the negative material, a few times over the next hour be aware of only neutral or positive material while also bringing to mind neutral things (e.g., people, situations, ideas) that have become associated with the negative material.
I'm looking at more resources about such subject. I would like to re-read similar traditional practices and compare them to this.

I guess that for some people in some stages, who are not very stable in their positive world view yet, it can happend that they link the positive things with the still too strong negative things. Thus having the opposite effect of what they want.

I'm aware that Rick Hanson has written another more theoretical book (which I plan to read), but would like to know any other scientific sources with similar techniques too (neuroscience, psychotherapy, psychology..).

Mainly I would like to get a bigger picture of such techniques and compare them. And read about their underlying ideas of such practises.

Maybe somebody here has read similar things and can give some input.

Also I need to think more about the goals, since its not to forget the old memory per se, but rather to soak it with more positive feelings.

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Re: linking negative experiences with positive ones

Post by Vasana » Thu Apr 26, 2018 7:33 am

Hmm. I've read Hanson's 'Buddha's Brain' which I found great at the time. However I'm not so sure how universally acclaimed the approach of linking positive and negative material is, or maybe I just don't completely understand what that means in this context.

From what I remember, his work had close links with neuroplasticity so this may be a research area you can look in to to see if there are any evidence-based psychological approaches of rewiring the parts of the brain linked with emotions, well-being and so on. Also worth looking at material on how meditation, mindfulness, loving kindness effect the brain and subjective well-being.

As for traditional comparisons, Lojong (mind training) and Tonglen (giving and taking' or 'sending and receiving') come to mind. Pema Chodron mentions multiple levels in which tonglen can be practiced - the most simple is just to remember "other people feel this too" when encountering any pain and "may others feel this too" when encountering any pleasure or happiness. That way, the self grasping of the ego in relation to 'my pleasure' and 'my pain, my anxiety, my hang-ups' is diminished in day to day moments (when we actually remember) rather than just during formal practice sessions. Since the principle of sending and receiving can be practiced on oneself, this seems like a very definite example of linking negative experiences with positive ones and vice versa.

The Lojong texts in general are great traditional sources on dealing with happiness and sadness and all sorts on the way to enlightement. As far as I know, in Buddhism there isn't a lot of focus on dwelling on the past or even a pursing happiness in the typical hedonic sense of wanting pleasurable experience and avoiding negative experience. The more we stir up notions of the past, present and future the more cloudy the sediment of the mind becomes. There is a great deal of material on bringing adversity on to the path though which should be of some interest.

Here is an unbelievably great text on this topic :

Transforming Suffering and Happiness
by Dodrupchen Jigme Tenpe Nyima ... -happiness
'When alone, watch your mind. When with others, watch your speech'- Old Kadampa saying.

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Re: linking negative experiences with positive ones

Post by Vasana » Thu Apr 26, 2018 7:51 am

(see the link for full text)
Dodrupchen Jigme Tenpe Nyima wrote:
Transforming Suffering and Happiness

Statement of Intent

I am going to put down here a partial instruction on how to use both happiness and suffering as the path to enlightenment. This is indispensable for leading a spiritual life, a most needed tool of the Noble Ones, and quite the most priceless teaching in the world.

There are two parts:

1) how to use suffering as the path,
2) and how to use happiness as the path.

Each one is approached firstly through relative truth, and then through absolute truth.

1) How to Use Suffering as the Path to Enlightenment
i. Through Relative Truth

Whenever we are harmed by sentient beings or anything else, if we make a habit out of perceiving only the suffering, then when even the smallest problem comes up, it will cause enormous anguish in our mind.

This is because the nature of any perception or idea, be it happiness or sorrow, is to grow stronger and stronger the more we become accustomed to it. So as the strength of this pattern gradually builds up, before long we’ll find that just about everything we perceive becomes a cause for actually attracting unhappiness towards us, and happiness will never get a chance.

If we do not realize that it all depends on the way in which mind develops this habit, and instead we put the blame on external objects and situations alone, the flames of suffering, negative karma, aggression and so on will spread like wildfire, without end. This is what is called: “all appearances arising as enemies.”

We should arrive at a very precise understanding that the whole reason why sentient beings in this degenerate age are plagued by so much suffering is because they have such feeble powers of discernment.

So not to be hurt by the obstacles created by enemies, illness or harmful influences, does not mean to say that things like sickness can be driven away, and that they will never occur again. Rather, it simply means that they will not be able to obstruct us from practising on the path.

In order for this to happen, we need: first, to get rid of the attitude of being entirely unwilling to face any suffering ourselves and, second, to cultivate the attitude of actually being joyful when suffering arises.

Dropping the Attitude of Being Entirely Unwilling to Suffer

Think about all the depression, anxiety and irritation we put ourselves through by always seeing suffering as unfavourable, something to be avoided at all costs. Now, think about two things: how useless this is, and how much trouble it causes. Go on reflecting on this repeatedly, until you are absolutely convinced.

Then say to yourself: “From now on, whatever I have to suffer, I will never become anxious or irritated.” Go over this again and again in your mind, and summon all your courage and determination.

First, let’s look at how useless it is. If we can do something to solve a problem, then there is no need to worry or be unhappy about it; if we can’t, then it doesn’t help to worry or be unhappy about it either.

Then, the enormous trouble involved. As long as we don’t get anxious and irritated, then our strength of mind will enable us to bear even the hardest of sufferings easily; they’ll feel as flimsy and insubstantial as cotton wool. But while we are dominated by anxiety, even the tiniest problem becomes extremely difficult to cope with, because we have the additional burden of mental discomfort and unhappiness.

[...]So, as in the instructions called ‘Sealing the Doors of the Senses’, don’t latch onto all kinds of mind-made concepts about your suffering. Learn instead to leave the mind undisturbed in its own natural state, bring the mind home, rest there, and let it find its own ground.

Cultivating the Attitude of Being Joyful when Suffering Arises

Seeing suffering as an ally to help us on the path, we must learn to develop a sense of joy when it arises. Yet whenever suffering strikes, unless we have some kind of spiritual practice to bring to it, one which matches the capacity of our mind, no matter how many times we might say to ourselves: ‘Well, as long as I’ve got roughly the right method, I’ll be able to use suffering and obtain such and such a benefit’, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll succeed. We’ll be as far from our goal, the saying goes, as the earth is from the sky.

Therefore, use suffering as the basis for the following practices:

  • a. Using Suffering to Train in Renunciation[...]
    b. Using Suffering to Train in Taking Refuge[...]
    c. Using Suffering to Overcome Arrogance[...]
    d. Using Suffering to Purify Harmful Actions[...]
    e. Using Suffering to Find Joy in Positive Action[...]
    f. Using Suffering to Train in Compassion[...]
    g. Using Suffering to Cherish Others More Than Yourself[...]

2. How To Use Happiness as the Path to Enlightenment
i. Through Relative Truth

Whenever happiness and the various things that cause happiness appear, if we slip under their power, then we will grow increasingly conceited, smug and lazy, which will block our spiritual path and progress.

In fact it’s difficult not to be carried away by happiness, as Padampa Sangye pointed out:

'We human beings can cope with a lot of suffering,
But very little happiness.'

[...]The main point to get here is that whatever happiness, whatever well-being, comes our way, we must unite it with Dharma practice. This is the whole vision behind Nāgārjuna’s Garland of Jewels.[8]

Even though we may be happy, if we don’t recognize it, we will never be able to make use of that happiness as an opportunity for practising the Dharma. Instead we’ll be forever hoping that some extra happiness will come our way, and we’ll waste our lives on countless projects and actions. The antidote to this is to apply the practice wherever it is appropriate, and, above all, to savour the nectar of contentment.

[...]What this Training Brings

If we cannot practise when we’re suffering because of all the anxiety we go through, and we cannot practise when we’re happy because of our attachment to happiness, then that rules out any chance of our practising Dharma at all. That is why there is nothing more crucial for a practitioner than this training in turning happiness and suffering into the path.

And if you do have this training, no matter where you live, in a solitary place or in the middle of a city; whatever the people around you are like, good or bad; whether you’re rich or poor, happy or distressed; whatever you have to listen to, praise or condemnation, good words or bad; you’ll never feel the slightest fear that it could bring you down in any way. No wonder this training is called the ‘Lion-Like Yoga’.

Whatever you do, your mind will be happy, peaceful, spacious and relaxed. Your whole attitude will be pure, and everything will turn out excellently. Your body might be living in this impure world of ours, but your mind will experience the splendour of an unimaginable bliss, like the bodhisattvas in their pure realms.

It’ll be just as the precious Kadampa masters used to say:

Keep happiness under control;
Put an end to suffering.
With happiness under control
And suffering brought to an end:
When you’re all alone,
This training will be your true friend;
When you are sick,
It will be your nurse.

Goldsmiths first remove the impurities from gold by melting it in fire, and then make it malleable by rinsing it over and over again in water. It is just the same with the mind. If by using happiness as the path, you become weary and disgusted with it, and by taking suffering as the path, you make your mind clear and cheerful, then you will easily attain the extraordinary samādhi which makes mind and body capable of doing anything you wish.

This instruction, I feel, is the most profound of all, for it perfects discipline, the source of everything positive and wholesome. This is because not being attached to happiness creates the basis of the extraordinary discipline of renunciation, and not being afraid of suffering makes this discipline completely pure.

'When alone, watch your mind. When with others, watch your speech'- Old Kadampa saying.

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