The things that hold us back spiritually are all within ourselves. They are experienced as fatigue, discouragement, self-pity, reluctance, unwillingness, and also those negative attitudes that come from taking the outer world too seriously—anger, bitterness, resentment.
All negative attitudes spell our own undoing because they draw the mind away from God and affirm a separate reality. Only when you’ve overcome the carping, doubting spirit can you uplift your mind in attunement with the Divine.
Should we repeat negative statements?
I once had a very interesting conversation with my Guru, Paramhansa Yogananda, which taught me an important lesson about negativity.
After reading Autobiography of a Yogi, I went to Encinitas, California expecting to be greeted by Yogananda with open arms and accepted immediately. Instead, I was greeted by Sister Gyanamata, his most advanced woman disciple, who told me it would probably be months before I was accepted.
I became very resentful. My first thought was that she was just one of those little old ladies who tend to choke religious organizations. Later that day, however, I recalled her eyes, which were very deep, and I prayed and asked her forgiveness for having misjudged her.
When I told this story to Yogananda, including my initial negative view of Sister Gyanamata, he said, “Why did you say that?” I replied, “Well, I later understood that she was a saintly person. In the beginning I didn’t understand that.”
He said, “You shouldn’t talk about such things. That’s just being negative.” In other words, Sister Gyanamata was a saint. Why mention anything else? He always wanted us to be positive and to focus on goodness.
The power of negativity
Yogananda also cautioned me against speaking about negative situations. He once asked me to attend an installation ceremony at the Masonic lodge of one of our members. The ceremony ended in shambles, with half the lodge members walking out in angry protest.
When I told Yogananda what had happened, he said, “Don’t say anything about it.” At first I was surprised, since the Masons would never get wind of my remarks, but I realized that he was warning me of the power of negativity itself.
“Avoid speaking negative things,” he would tell us. “Why look at the drains, when there is beauty all around? When we concentrate on the good, we take on goodness. When we look at the negative side long enough, we ourselves take on negative qualities.”
Radiate love and harmony
Always try to keep away from negative influences. Mixing with people who are negative tends to influence one to see things in negative terms.
Learn to radiate love and harmony. By loving others, you will overcome the tendency to judge them. Therese of Avila trained her nuns always to think something positive about a person whenever they came into view. This would be a good practice for everyone to adopt.
A negative wish or feeling
Is a critical attitude invariably negative? A critical attitude becomes negative to the extent that it has a negative feeling behind it. We might be offended by what someone does and even need to reproach him. The important thing is never to disapprove of him as a person.
You become negative when you have a negative feeling, or a negative wish about a situation or person. Judgmental people, for example, want only for those they scorn to be hurt or destroyed.
Practicality is not negativity. It’s important to have both feet on the ground, to be able to see where things could go wrong, and to respond accordingly. That’s being realistic, not negative.
The yes-saying principle
In overcoming negativity, it’s very important to learn to say “yes” to life. Instead of becoming angry and resentful when something unpleasant comes to you, say, “Yes, “I attracted this to myself. There’s something I’m meant to learn from it.”
Anger and resentment are useless emotions, but you can change things if you say, “It was energy I put out that drew this experience to me. What can I do to prevent this from happening again?” With that attitude you place yourself in the driver’s seat. No longer are you a leaf blowing in a wind over which you have no control.
Accept everything that comes to you as coming from the hand of God, as His gift even, and you will see that your greatest challenges in life turn out to be your greatest blessings. They are His way of helping you to see things more deeply, more beautifully.
“God gave it to me”
There is a lovely example of this from the life of St. Francis. At the start of his mission, St. Francis would go to people’s houses with a bucket and ask for whatever food they could give him. In the beginning, no one respected his way of life, so people gave him horrible stuff from their garbage pails. His first reaction was a turning sensation in the stomach.
But then he would say, “This is wonderful because God gave it to me.” And he would eat the food with joy. With that positive, accepting attitude, he brought people to the point where they began to treat him differently, too.
Importance of meditation and centeredness
To overcome negativity, mental resolutions are not enough. You need to introduce meditation and the higher dimension of the superconscious.
The more you meditate, the more you become centered in yourself, which gives you the ability to direct your will in a positive way and to filter out negative thoughts—you simply don’t accept them. When your will power is strong, you can quickly and easily say “no” to whatever you want to exclude from your life.
Otherwise, you get caught in the ego, which will feed back thoughts and attitudes from the subconscious mind—thoughts that you are weak, a failure, that it’s all right to be angry, and so on.
Why saints aren’t negative
You will transcend negativity when, like the saints, you have completely overcome the tendency to wish ill toward anyone or anything, and when you can accept this world as it is, without criticism or judgment.
Saints are non-judgmental, forgiving, and accepting of all things. As Yogananda wrote of Master Mahasaya in Autobiography of a Yogi, they see the world “without a breath of criticism” because they have realized that behind all the pain, disappointments, and challenges, there is only God’s love and bliss.
They’ve understood that even the most evil people are a part of the divine play and that they, too, will eventually turn toward God. It may take many, many lifetimes, but it will happen.