Reading by Liz Helgesen (Download file)
Everyone knows that physical pain is bad and tries to avoid it. We do this not only by curing diseases, but also by trying to prevent them and by trying to keep our physical immunity strong. Mental pain is equally bad, so we should try to alleviate it as well. The way to do this is to develop mental immunity.
Mental immunity is just learning to avoid the destructive emotions and to develop the positive ones. First, we must understand the mind -- there are so many different states of mind -- the diverse thoughts and emotions we experience on a daily basis. Some of these thoughts and emotions are harmful, even toxic, while others are healthy and healing. The former disturb our mind and cause much mental pain. The latter bring us true joyfulness.
When we understand this reality, it is much easier to deal with the mind and to take preventive measures. This is how we develop mental immunity. And just as a healthy immune system and healthy constitution protects your body against potentially hazardous viruses and bacteria, mental immunity creates a healthy disposition of the mind so that it will be less susceptible to negative thoughts and feelings.
Think about it this way. If your health is strong, when viruses come they will not make you sick. If your overall health is weak, even small viruses will be very dangerous for you. Similarly, if your mental health is sound, then when disturbances come, you will have some distress but quickly recover. If your mental health is not good, then small disturbances, small problems will cause you much pain and suffering. You will have much fear and worry, much sadness and despair, and much anger and aggravation.
People would like to be able to take a pill that makes their fear and anxiety go away and makes them immediately feel peaceful. This is impossible. One must develop the mind over time and cultivate mental immunity. Often people ask me for the quickest and best solution to a problem. Again, this is impossible. You can have quickest or you can have best solution, but not both. The best solution to our suffering is mental immunity, but it takes time to develop.
One time I was talking with Al Gore, the American vice president. He said that he had lots of problems, lots of difficulties that were causing him a great deal of anxiety. I said to him that we human beings have the ability to make a distinction between the rational level and the emotional level. At the rational level, we accept that this is a serious problem that we have to deal with, but at the deeper, emotional level, we are able to keep calm. Like the ocean has many waves on the surface but deep down it is quite calm. This is possible if we know how to develop mental immunity.
Excerpted from The Book of Joy.
SEED QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: What does mental immunity mean to you? Can you share a personal story of a time you were able to avoid destructive emotions while still acknowledging the situation rationally? What helps you create a healthy disposition for your mind?