This weekend we celebrated the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur. One of the clergy scheduled an hour-long healing session sandwiched between the full day of prayers on this fast day. Fifty people showed up, some willing to share the pain they were feeling from recent diagnoses of cancer, loss of loved ones, or family traumas, and others remained silent.
When it was my turn, I brought up the challenge I felt trying to stay positive in a negative world. Cruelty, brutality and insecurity seem to me more palpable than in the past, perhaps due to 24/7 connectivity with reports of wars, tragedies and beheadings. I described steps I use to emphasize the positive during the day while still being grounded in the events occurring in the world.
Here are 12 of the techniques I use to maintain a positive outlook when the world seems so incredibly negative:
1. Control the amount of negative news in my life.
While I want to stay up on the events occurring in the world, sometimes a headline is sufficient to grasp new developments. I limit the time I spend with TV, radio and Internet, selecting only a few stories to read in full.
2. Control the number of negative people in your life.
I spend most of my days talking to patients about their problems, and some days are filled with more uplifting reports than others. However, I can select how much time I spend with relatives and friends that dwell on the negative. As painful as it may be at times, my calendar may not open to those who consistently drag me down.
3. Listen to music.
I find positive music playing in the car, my home and at work to be a great source of uplifting spirit. One of the most positive collections of music is what I have found in Kundalini yoga. I can feel bountiful, beautiful and blissful with just a few clicks of my phone.
I choose to practice a Kirtan Kriya as taught by Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa, since it takes 12 minutes with a mantra and mudras that are simple. I often do this in the sauna, something I call saunitation, as it seems to clean out the junk in my brain.
5. Live consciously.
Awareness of my breath, the origin and nutrition of my food while eating, a blue sky, a purple flower, a bird’s song all can draw me into a feeling of gratitude for the moment that overcomes forces that can drag me down.
6. Practice gratitude.
Appreciating people for anything they may do to help during my day is always my goal, some days more successfully practiced than others. Helping others, holding a door, buying a surprise coffee for someone behind me in line (I call it random acts of caffeine), or letting someone merge into an intersection can be uplifting.
In my faith there are a couple prayers that are recited on awakening. A simple two-phrase prayer expresses thanks for the return of the spirit to the body after a night’s rest. Another prayer is odd, but one of my favorites: a prayer written over 1000 years ago to be recited after urinating or defecating to acknowledge that the body is still performing its daily miracle. Although an odd blessing, when I care for patients with bowel and bladder illness, I appreciate both how grounded this moment of reflection is.
8. Read positive books and interviews.
I've read my share of Dale Carnegie, Tony Robbins, Og Mangino, and Louise Hay but going back to them every now and then is a positive moment. Also, I select TED talks that describe new innovations, survivors of challenges, and insights into nature and feel better after viewing them.
9. Give hugs.
I love hugging others and, if my patients permit, I hug and scratch backs on most visits, which brings out huge smiles. I can just watch the stress of others diminish and my own stress decrease.
My phone is my pager, my social media, my calendar, and my tether 24/7. The smartphone is a wonder of technology that is on my waist, in my hand, or with me in the car. Some sacred time requires that it be shut off, whether it's one day a week as many religions mandate, an hour in the yoga room, or while meditating. I work to keep my phone and my brain far apart using speakerphone, Bluetooth or headsets.
Years ago, author Norman Cousins demonstrated the healing power of comedy on the course of ill patients and humor can play a healing role today as well. I often end my day with a few minutes of comedy that I have recorded on the DVR. I put the days’ worries behind, enjoy a few belly laughs, and think positively about the coming day.
12. Connect with animals.
My medical work day ends when I walk in my home and see two tails wagging with joy for the fact that I've returned. I have to lie down right then, whether in a suit or scrubs, to let Jake and Eva lick my face over and over. I doubt there's a better therapy after a long day, and I'm sure many of you feel that the love from a pet can counter so much negativity.
My wife and I have joked for years about moving to an isolated island where life is simple. Decades later, careers, children, and goals have kept us from fantasy. The Dalai Lama was quoted as saying, “When we meet real tragedy in life we can react in two ways, either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.”
I hope you'll share some of your strategies of staying positive and finding inner strength in the comments below.