It is easy to get carried away with the tide of unrestrained thoughts and negative emotions. positive I am not big on ‘positive thinking’ because I believe ‘thinking’ is one of the biggest problems. Negative thoughts are usually about past event or anxieties about the future and even ‘positive thinking’ approaches reject the present moment.
This article looks at how we can meet, tackle head-on, remove or scalpel and dissect emotion to influence change. You don’t need to meditate but I hope that the insights gained will be useful.
One of the first things that you notice, usually within a week or so of starting a daily mindful practice is the components of that make up your experience of themselves and the world, namely thought (including mental images), internal body sensations, feelings and emotions and external perceptions of the world from the five senses.
As you progress in meditation you appreciate that there are many levels to these components. Take the example of thought. For most of us, we are aware of only the most superficial thought. This is your regular commonplace thought that speaks to you in English (or your native language), is coherent, relevant and seems to make sense. This is the thought that most of us use to make decisions as it appears to have ‘wisdom’. However, if you go one step beyond this level you see a different picture. A seemingly non-stop barrage of words and/or mental images. Imagine a pan with gently simmering water, the occasional bubbles are these second level thoughts, the steam is the higher-level thoughts.
Some of these thoughts may be relevant to the situation but often they’re not. Sometimes they are coherent, but if looked at in closer detail, you would find over ninety-five percent of these constantly arising bubbles of thought had no coherence whatsoever, the remaining five percent, if we’re lucky guide our (not so) conscious experience.
In this situation, if you add negative emotions to the pan of water, you will get a negative substratum and also negative ‘steam’ in the form of your waking consciousness. Meditation gives a couple of approaches to modulating this process and affecting the substratum of your experience.
If you look at all emotions and it’s easiest to focus on grief because of its strong visceral component. Emotions actually consist of thoughts and/or mental images and internal body sensations.
The body sensation associated with grief is often described as a ‘gnawing’ or similar sensation usually felt in the abdomen but sometimes associated with a feeling of heaviness in the heart. Sometimes the sensations in the chest can be the sole sensation and instead of heaviness there may be lightness or fluttering felt in the heart. If you look long enough, you will see there is no consistency to the body sensations either! The first thing to do is separate the thoughts from the body sensations. These body sensations are, in every sense noticeable in the body; but are they actually uncomfortable or really painful without thoughts on board? Something else happens when you direct your attention to internal body sensation – they diminish.
The next step is to do the converse and analyse the thoughts without the body sensations on board. Are the thoughts memories or thoughts or anxiety about the future. Memories are thoughts about the past, taking place now. Anxiety is usually as a result of projections of the future, taking place now. If you actually then, direct your experience to what is happening ‘now’ in the absence of these thoughts and body sensations, is there any negativity? If you are honest and resist the temptation to go back to the thoughts and body sensations. You will find that right ‘now’ you are at peace.
The second insight comes later on in meditation and is usually borne out of the (prerequisite!) frustration that meditation can bring; however, this situation can be brought on by extreme emotional states such as ecstasy and profound emotional trauma. There is seen to be a ‘dissociation’ and I use this word cautiously because of its negative medical connotations. Perhaps it would be better to use ‘space’. The sheer frustration of not being able to control ones thoughts satisfactorily often leads to the meditator ‘wishing’, that the thoughts would stop. Then comes a realisation that they are not the thoughts but the one that is aware of the thoughts.
This one that is aware is referred to in Advaita Vedanta and other nondual philosophies as ‘The Watcher’ of the thoughts, although contemporary authors such as Eckhart Tolle also use this terminology. The meditator begins to realise that these thoughts arise ceaselessly and they have no influence over what bubbles out of the pan. They also realise, with conviction, that what they essentially are, is not the thoughts, the perspective changes to being the ‘watcher’ of the thoughts. It’s at this point that a practitioner asks the question ‘to whom does this thought arise?’. The question is not meant to get an answer and only needs to be asked once and works at a subconscious level once this ‘space’ has been created. This process of self-inquiry, I have alluded to in previous articles is a powerful and hugely transformative process.
The watcher has three qualities. Firstly, it is ever present. Every conscious moment in the midst of every experience that we have, we have the awareness of the situation. Secondly, it is imperturbable. Irrespective of the experience that we are having, the watcher or awareness of the situation is unmoved by the nature of that experience good or bad and accepts everything. The watcher of the situation does not ‘switch’ off when the going gets tough and no matter how difficult the situation gets, the watcher is remains unscathed and at peace. Thirdly, it is changeless. We all have, what I have termed ‘signpost’ memories where we have been aware of being aware of the situation, environment or occasion. When one becomes aware of the watcher during meditation, they see that the qualities of the watcher have remained entirely the same during these signposts.
Applying this insight to everyday practice, one other way to overcome negative emotions is to simply shift the perspective from the thought and body sensation of that emotion to that of being the watcher, the one, who is aware of the thought and body sensation. Through this process of emotional deconstruction, thoughts and body sensations have less of an ability to perpetuate these emotions. These techniques practiced over time, change the way we view emotions and the hold they have over us. This space allows us to respond to a situation rather than be reactive and act on the basis of an impulse created by an unrestrained thought.
Neither technique requires years of meditation practice, but they do require some genuine curiosity and a desire to look within to the source (of the problem). Nor are these techniques advocated for the sole treatment of conditions such as severe depression or deep psychological trauma which may require more supervised care. These techniques do not take much time to perform, so next time a negative emotion comes up, instead of becoming despondent or getting carried away with negative patterns of thinking take some genuine interest in the emotion and its components.
These practices are easy to perform and are better experienced than written about, so you don’t have to take anything on faith except that the shadows cast by negative emotions cannot exist for long under the illuminating light of awareness.
Article by Vikas Pandey