What to do when were not feeling so positive
Swami J's Newsletter
(Address and subscribe/unsubscribe info below)
May 22, 2001
In yoga science there are practices called yamas, of which there are
five. These are Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya
(non-stealing), Brahmacharya (self-restraint), and Aparigraha (non-
There are also five niyamas, which are Saucha (cleanliness), Santosha
(contentment), Tapas (training the senses), Svadhyaya (self-study),
and Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender).
These are presented by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra (Sutra means
thread, like a thread of truths strung together, such as is done with
beads, or like threads in a fabric).
We are all familiar with such practices of having positive values.
However, THE QUESTION ARISES OF WHAT TO DO WHEN WE ARE NOT FEELING
THESE POSITIVE VALUES.
For example, what are we to do when we are NOT feeling non-violent,
but are really feeling mean, rotten, nasty, or angry towards someone
else. Or less than truthful, wanting the stuff of others, seeing our
senses drag us around, feeling possessive of objects, not feeling
contentment, and struggling with spiritual surrender. What are we to
Patanjali gives a really practical suggestion only a couple sutras
after introducing the principles of the yamas and niyamas. It seems
so simple as to not warrant any serious consideration. However, as is
often the case, this simple suggestion is profoundly useful.
The suggestion is that when we have perverse thoughts, that which we
know are going in the wrong direction, we should think of
However, this is where it gets tricky. It would seem that
the "opposite" of a mean, rotten, nasty, or angry thought
would be thoughts and feelings such as friendliness, kindness, and
love. Having such nice thoughts and emotions may be a good idea, but
you might have noticed that this is pretty difficult when right in
the middle of those negative thoughts and emotions. We just may not
feel loving, for example, for others who we see as violent, mean, or
The "opposite" that Yoga is referring to is a different sort
of "opposite". It is not, for example that love is the
opposite of hate (though this is a nice practice to cultivate).
Rather, the negative thoughts and emotions are taking us in a
"wrong","bad", or "not useful" direction. The
"opposite" of this
negative direction is simply to cultivate not going in that negative
This might sound confusing. However, Patanjali explains that
the "opposite" thought to cultivate is that "This thought
is the cause of infinite misery and unending ignorance."
It is a process of training our own mind, similar to the way a parent
might train a young child by repeatedly affirming some reality of
behavior. It is a process that Swami Rama has called "internal
dialogue" which is an aspect of the process of contemplation.
In training the mind, like the child, we are instructing the mind of
the reality, the truth that "This line of thinking is not useful.
Mind, this is taking me in the wrong direction. This negativity [or
other such behavior, thought, or emotion] is just going to make
things worse, and is just going to bring even more suffering. Mind,
you need to let go of this."
Gradually the mind comes to listen and to let go. Then, even the
feelings such as love have the opportunity to naturally spring
forward, which is quite different from trying to convince ourselves
of something we do not really believe in (for example, lovingness
towards someone who we feel is not behaving nicely).
This process, though simple, takes a good bit of practice. In
practicing, it becomes clearer how this applies to each of the five
yamas and the five niyamas, or with any other system of values we may
It is also important to note that what is being suggested here is
definitely not repression or suppression of thoughts and emotions. It
is a process of training the mind to let go. This is done by
cultivating the opposite of the negative directions or thought
patterns by simply acknowledging, orally, inside, "This is not
useful!" or other such words.
From the standpoint of meditation we do these practices so that the
mind can feel a quality of peace and serenity in relation to the
world and other people, such that we can more easily sit in a joy-
filled silence called meditation.
A prayer for you: In those moments when you are NOT following your
own conscience, may you gently remember to internally remember and
say these words to yourself, "This is not useful."
In loving service,