To know your own mind is one of the most powerful tools you can possibly have. Without it, we’re walking blind, at the mercy of what everyone else thinks- and too often, they’re thinking with their egos and not their highest Selves.
“Self-knowledge is the great power by which we comprehend and control our lives.” — Vernon Howard
To begin working with negative thoughts, start with what comes up for you on a regular basis. Don’t attempt to remember all the negative thoughts you’ve ever had- not only is that impossible, it’s a massive waste of the present moment.
When done effortlessly, this is a natural progression from noticing what you’re thinking and dealing with sticky thoughts. We’re simply going to take it a step further and begin to work with some of those thoughts that cause us pain.
My disclaimer: I’ve found that the absolutely best way to deal with negative thoughts is to not give them any thought! When I ignore them and turn my mind to something I love instead, they have no one to think them and can’t stick around. Occasionally though, my ego will get stuck on a thought, or I’ll have a deep-rooted thought that just keeps coming back and coming back- and it needs to be worked through and the energy around it changed before I can really be “free” of it. (We are always free- so this is just a story, but one that I’ve found helpful.)
I’ve found it necessary to work through negative thoughts:
- If you “think” a thought is haunting you
- If your mind is fighting to reconcile new thoughts with old ones
- If you’re not sure if an old thought is beneficial or not
Note: I say “old thoughts” but all thoughts are always current thoughts. If you’re thinking it now, you’re creating it in your life now. You’re making it true now.
Negative thoughts often come in these forms:
- Memories. These are the stories we've told of what happened, and how we felt when those things happened. Negative memories come back to us, begging us to re-frame them into a loving light instead of torturing us with their lies.
- Beliefs. These are more ethereal. “I’m not good enough.” “I’m not a good salesperson.” “He doesn’t like me.” Beliefs are often false conclusions we've come to after believing the negative thoughts about a series of memories. (I.e. after “believing” that someone didn't want to talk to you, then believing it about another situation, you might develop the belief that you're not good enough, or worth talking to.)
- Any thought that makes you feel sad, tired, run-down, defeated, annoyed, angry, irritated, frustrated, etc.
“One who has control over the mind is tranquil in heat and cold, in pleasure and pain, and in honor and dishonor; and is ever steadfast with the Supreme Self.” -Bhagavad Gita
Once you’ve targeted a thought that’s causing you pain, go through these steps to transform the energy of it:
1. Recognize that it is the thought that’s causing you pain- not the thing itself. This is incredibly freeing. When you believe this (sometimes you have to believe it on faith before you can accept that it's true) you can see that no thing in this entire world can ever cause you pain- only your thinking a certain way about it can.
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” -Shakespeare
- What happens in life is neutral. It is only the stories that we tell about life events that make them positive or negative, loving or painful.
- When you think something “should” be different, you feel pain
- When you think you have to feel a certain way about an event, you feel pain
2. Discover the actual thought that’s causing you pain. Sometimes thoughts are “cloaked.” I think I’m angry because X happened, but it’s really because Y, as a result, didn’t. Take a moment to really discover the real reason why you’re upset. When we’re truly honest about this (and no one else needs to know unless we decide to share it with them) we often see that the true nature of the pain is feeling a lack of love.
- Do you believe something shouldn’t have happened, or should’ve happened a different way? Anytime we refuse to accept reality, we feel pain.
- Do you believe a story that may or may not be true? When we speculate, or assume, or “think we know” something that is ultimately unknowable (someone’s intentions, what happened in a situation that we didn’t witness, etc.) we create a story of pain.
3. Think about why that thought might not be true. Byron Katie’s “The Work” is great for this. “Can you know that’s true? Can you absolutely know that it’s true?” Almost always, with painful thoughts, we’re creating a story of pain that is based on pure speculation, even if we “think” we have “proof.”
“I guess I can’t know for sure what she intended by that comment.” “I don’t know how life is going to play out, so what happened might not be the end of the world, after all.” “There might actually be a good side to this, I just can’t see it yet.” These thoughts will bring you from a place of pain to the path of love and acceptance.
4. Ask yourself: what thought would I rather think? Often, we’ve lived our lives tricked (by our egos) into thinking that the thought that comes is the only way we can think about that particular situation. It isn’t until someone else shows us a different perspective that we usually look at it another way. But we can make the switch and reframe even the most painful thoughts anytime we want.
- If you could retell this thought from the eyes of love, what you would the new story be? “I chose the exact parents I needed to advance in life as quickly as possible. This situation showed me not to look to others for appreciation and acceptance, that I need to find it only within myself. I am so grateful for that lesson.”
- “Well, if I believed that she didn’t mean to hurt me, that would make me feel better.” Or, “If I believed that it’s okay that happened, that it won’t cause the problems I fear it will, I would feel better.”
5. Know that the thought that makes you feel better is the true thought.
The great teachers have taught us that suffering is unnecessary, and cessation of suffering is possible. It is our thoughts that cause us to suffer. If suffering is unnecessary, it’s not true. The universe is far more infinite, loving, and all-encompassing than we can possibly imagine with our minds.
6. Take responsibility for thinking something different.
“Whenever the mind unsteady and restless strays away from the spirit, let him ever and for ever lead it again to the spirit.” –Bhagavad Gita
You are the only one that can train your thoughts. You are the only one that gets caught in a thought, you are the only one that can change what you’re thinking. Most people, most of the time float through life letting thoughts come to them, lazily letting negative thoughts rule their lives. It’s not until we see that our thoughts truly create our realities, and that we have 100% control over what we think, that we can begin to take responsibility and see the incredible, blissful freedom of this Truth.
“To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one's family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one's own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.” -Buddha
7. Know you're free. Ultimately, to simply know we are not bound by any negative thought, and that by its nature (its negativity) it's not true, we unleash the power of freedom. Practice applying this truth to all sorts of negative thoughts, from the very simple to the very frustrating and complex, and you'll shine light where there was previously only darkness.
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