The great spiritual teacher Sri Ramakrishna used to describe the human tendency towards bad habits like a camel who eats thorns; they make his mouth bleed yet he comes back to eat them again and again. This perfectly describes our attitude towards negative thinking – we know how unhealthy it can be and how miserable they can make us, but we get a kind of perverse joy from it all the same. However, in the long term they can dent our self-esteem tremendously. Sometimes we make a determined attempt to think more positively, but then stop because the tendency is just too powerful. Here are some things you can try to turn the tide of your thoughts in a more positive direction:
1. Invoke the opposite quality
Often the worst thing you can do is struggle with a negative thought – by recognising it, you give it even more power. Instead try and invoke the opposite quality. If it is jealousy you are suffering from, invoke oneness. If it is fear, invoke faith and courage, and so on. You can practice a breathing exercise where you slowly breathe all these good qualities in, and breathe all the negative thoughts which have been plaguing you out.
2. Silence the mind
We would like the power to choose which thoughts can enter into our meditation, but first we should gain the ability to make our mind completely free of thoughts. Contemporary spiritual teacher Sri Chinmoy explains thus: “We will remain silent for a few minutes and say, ‘Since I do not know who my friends are and who my enemies are, since I do not know which thoughts are healthy and divine and which ones are unhealthy and undivine, the best thing is for me to keep my mind totally empty. I will keep my minds door shut for a while, and then when I open it, I will see only my friends, the good thoughts, and I will let them enter.’ ” If we practice silencing our mind using meditation for even just a few minutes a day, we will see that this will give us great inner strength to keep bad thoughts away and let good thoughts remain.
3. Fast mantras
Sometimes negative thoughts just burst in on us in a powerful swarm, and at that time we need something equally as drastic to get rid of them. One way is through chanting mantras, which are words or phrases which are repeated again and again during meditation, Mantras are traditionally chanted quite slowly, but in this case you should repeat them with tremendous speed and urgency. One mantra which is particularly useful in this regard is the mantra ‘Supreme’, invoking the highest reality within ourselves, that beauty that lies deep inside us far beyond any negative thought. Try to feel that within each utterance of the mantra Supreme there are a hundred other Supremes. If you repeat this mantra quickly, you will invoke tremendous power which is more than capable of besting these negative thoughts.
4. Purify the mind
Ultimately, the mind needs to be purified and cleansed of all these negative thoughts, and the best way to to this is to invoke the heart, which is considerably less impure. You can have a meditation exercise where you imagine that you have no mind, you are only the heart. Alternatively you can feel an inner flame deep inside your heart which is rising up and illumining the mind. It may take some practice, but with time you can feel peace and joy deep inside the middle of your chest. After you experience these beautiful qualities of the heart, your mind becomes more willing to follow the heart’s example and becomes purified considerably.