How to remove negative thoughts and tame your monkey mind, Part 2
This is a continuation on the series on removing negative thoughts. Please find Part One here.
Have you given the previous levels a good solid try? It’s important not to skip ahead too fast. It’s almost never as bad as you think it is, and by moving on to the higher levels you are giving yourself added stress.
The Third Level – Letting them slide
If the thoughts persist after a sustained effort at the second level, don’t despair. What you’ve done there has laid the foundations for this level.
This level, then, is simply about letting your thoughts slide by without attaching to them. I find it helpful to visualize a large blank screen, and the thoughts as little ants that scurry across them. Prodding or playing with those ants make them lose their way and they can’t find their way off the screen. In other words, don’t judge, don’t analyse, don’t hate. These are all forms of clinging or playing with your ants. An even better choice is to imbue the screen with a pleasant feeling, and let the ants disappear into the warm glow of the feeling.
The next step is to know there is something inside you that finds a strange pleasure in this pain. It could be your need to be right, or superior, or it could even be your suffering has become a parasite living off your pain. I’ve covered it more in Why do we cling to our unhappiness?
Knowing there is something inside you that wants to attach to your thoughts and feed them helps you in letting them slide by. You don’t have to do anything. There’s no need to try to stop them. Let them arise, step outside your mind, and watch them drift by.
The Buddha compares this to a man who looks in the other direction to avoid looking at objects that move into his line of sight. In modern terms, it’s like trying to read a book while a spoilt brat is trying his hardest to distract you by being rude. The more you hate him, or force yourself to ignore him, the worse it gets. Just let yourself naturally tune it out. Even better, smile at the child. Let it know it can’t affect your calm, and he’ll give up and play with something else.
As KL Grant says in her great article, paying attention to your thoughts energizes them and can cause emotions. If they bring up emotions on their own – and not because you are energizing them then your situation is unresolved. More information in the emotional mastery series.
The Fourth Level – The thought source
Imagine yourself fighting a whole army of robots. You are shooting them all down as they come, but the hordes are endless. What do you do? Easy – you blow up the factory that is making these robots.
Up to this level, we’ve been dealing with the thoughts themselves. Now let’s get serious. We’ll deal with the factory – the Buddha calls them the thought formations – that produces these thoughts.
To paraphrase the sutra: “Just as a man walks slowly when he finds no reason to walk fast, and a man stands when he finds no reason to walk, so too will your thoughts stop when they can find no reason to exist.”
This requires some deeper work. There are many things you can do at this level.
- The story behind the thoughts. For example, my most prominent negative thoughts are memories of humiliation – some of them a decade old.The core belief, then, is that I shouldn’t be humiliated. In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, they recommend you change this belief to something less rigid – “I prefer not to be humiliated.” The Work of Byron Katie goes one step further. It uses something called the turnaround, one of which is “I should be humiliated.”Now this is dangerous because it is easily misunderstood. Is she saying that you should let yourself be abused, or go out looking for humiliation? No. There’s more to it than this, but for this article, simply interpret this as applying only to the past. Why? Because you can’t change the past, no matter how hard you try. And all you can change is the belief that is causing pain. She should have humiliated me. Why? Because she did. I can’t argue with the past, because I will always lose. Does that make sense? It’s got nothing to do with how people should treat me in the future.
What do you do with this belief? Visualise the memory or the event or whatever is causing your thoughts, while holding this new belief. Take all the time you need, and feel it. Does it feel any different?
- The present. This might sound like common sense, but not everyone does it. Is there something going on that triggers your thoughts – a song that reminds you of your old lover, perhaps? If so, turn the radio off.
- Cultivating Love. This is the one I like to use. It takes a lot more time, but it forms better habits in my mind. I send loving feelings towards the hurt. I see the factory of my memories, for example, as a part of me that has been hurt by event.Like a scared baby, it wants your attention and care, and the only way to get your attention is by crying. Will you annoyed by the cries of your precious baby, if it is scared? Talk to it, reassure it, send love and compassion to it. I tell myself that it’s all okay, that I did the best I could, and they didn’t know any better. How would you reassure your crying baby, if you had one? When I have these negative thoughts, I feel a tightness in my chest, and treat that as the formation that produces it. I talk and send love to the tightness. It takes a while, but it slowly disappears.Depending on the thoughts you have, this baby metaphor might not be the best – but you get the point. See what works best for you. I find this a long and slow process, but it is one of my favourite and most transformative meditations. Part of it is covered in the final post of the emotional mastery series, but there is more, which I will cover in a future post.
In the coming posts I’ll cover the last step of the Sutra I get the feeling that it’s for the worst cases only. There are also many other systems of mastering your thoughts – so subscribe to my RSS feed!