Vitarka Badhane Pratipaksa Bhavavam
When distrubed by disturbing thoughts, think the opposite
Patanjali, Chapter 2, Sutra 33
We all have those moments when we feel stuck, when the weight of our fears and attachments bring us down creating that heavy (tamasic*) quality in our minds and bodies. We first try 'fix it' and change it (because we cannot accept how we are feeling). We exert the same will power in trying to alter how we feel, the very same will power that eventually brings us to ours knees when those old strategies no longer work. Or when we realise that those old strategies never worked and all they to is defer the suffering.
So what do we do when we don't know what to do? When the feelings and thoughts feel bigger than us and when our courage and motivation dwindles through fear, to a state of inertia. Fear that it might be hard too confront how we really feel, fear that maybe when we dig a little deeper we might find that our attachments are the reason we are experiencing this suffering in the first place, fear that the responsibility might actually be ours to let go rather than fix anything. We are not broken, there is nothing to fix. Maybe with increasing awareness we realise the source of our disturbing thoughts, is our disturbing thoughts. Maybe we need to heal rather than to fix.
Patanjali offers us a very simply, yet profound approach. When disturbed by disturbing thoughts think the opposite. Let's dive into the solution not the problem, it starts with our thoughts, follows with our words and is executed with our action. To plant non-suffering seeds we can begin by transforming our thoughts. For example a resentful thought such as "I have visitors with me all week and I can't practice yoga". Here we are attached to our practice (our physical asana practice taught and directed by a teacher, I might add). Instead we can take what we learn off the mat. We can turn it around "I'm so grateful that dear friends are coming to stay. I'm honoured to make their stay comfortable and enjoyable". Your yoga practice can be about the energy and love you give to your guests. Making yoga the selfless service that it is. By flicking the switch, and re-directing your thoughts, you can be present and enjoy the moment with them. The alternative is spending a week miserable because you can't get on to your mat. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.
Another way to transform how you are feeling, is to entirely shake it up. Do something spontaneous and different, the opposite. Yesterday I was spontaneously invited to go to River Lea to swim. Just in thinking about accepting the offer my whole mood changed. I felt buoyant and excitable. When as adults do we do this? When do we break our routine (the one we create to make us feel safe and in control, the one we are attached to, the one that tells us we don't want to be spontaneous). Structure is great, but stagnancy? I dare you.
In essence, this ancient teaching speaks of a modern concept known as Neuro-Plasticity. Our brains are plastic! They are malleable! Our habitual thought patterns can be changed, with courage, willingness and practice. It's not always easy, but that doesn't mean it's not worth it. Suffering is optional.
*To find out more about the Three Gunas click here