The Power of Negative Thinking
We all know about the power of positive thinking, but I am pretty sure there is
power in our negative thoughts too. Rather than pushing away what we prefer not
to feel or think about, we might try leaning into those thoughts – to see what is there
and why we so much don’t want to think what we are thinking at times.
Buddhism talks about a system of leaning into your negative thoughts captured by
the acronym RAIN – which stands for;
R – Recognition – realize what you are thinking or feeling at this moment
A - accept that you are thinking or feeling it
I – investigate that thought with a clear mind. Where in your body do you feel this
feeling, this thought?
N- non identification. Realize that what you are thinking is merely a thought. It
does not define who you are.
I seem to get in trouble when I try to ignore my negative thoughts – or when I try to
talk myself out of what I am thinking or feeling. Let’s say for instance, that I am
annoyed with my husband. Usually I am not even aware that I am annoyed – I just
get quiet, or short, or “crabby” or withdrawn without knowing why. Next I
sometimes become aware that I am annoyed by some minor thing he is doing. Then,
I often begin to try to talk myself out of feeling what I am feeling. “I shouldn’t feel
this way. It doesn’t matter – Let it go.“ I barely recognize the feeling and I am trying
to convince myself not to feel it !
What if, instead , I used the RAIN approach?
R - When I find myself being “crabby” or short or withdrawn, what if I asked myself
“what I am thinking or feeling right now?” What if I could recognize “Oh, you are
feeling angry”. Not judging that feeling, that thought – merely acknowledging that it
A - And then what if I began to ALLOW myself to feel what I am feeling, without
judging that thought or feeling. “It is true – I am feeling angry.”
I - And then, having recognized and accepted the fact that I am feeling angry, what
if I began to investigate that feeling. Right now my jaw is a bit clenched, I am
breathing in a controlled way, my brow is furrowed. “I don’t want to have this
feeling.” “My feeling and thoughts are out of proportion to the trigger.” “The
problem is not what he is doing, the problem is that I am choosing to be angry about
what he is doing.” I see that I am not OK with this feeling.
N – And finally, if, instead of trying to banish my negative thoughts and feelings, I
turn towards them, I can learn something about myself. It is, after all, only a
thought, only a feeling, I know it will pass. After clear-headed assessment, I can
decide if or whether to act on this thought or feeling. But if I don’t even recognize
and accept the fact that I have a certain thought or feeling, I cannot make a choice –
I often simply act without thinking and that gets me into trouble! Recognizing my
anger and “working” with it does not mean that I am trying to banish it. I am trying
to accept that it is true and see how it impacts me and then to be in charge of if or
how I respond to this feeling or thought.
Most important of all for me is to recognize that because I have an angry thought or
feeling does not mean that I am an angry person. I am who I am. Like everyone, I
have oodles of thoughts and feelings. These change all the time. It is OK for me to
feel angry. It is not always OK to act on those thoughts and feelings. Sometimes it is
absolutely OK to act on such thoughts or feelings. But, I like the idea of realizing I
have a choice and of putting a little distance between the match and the fuse!
Here’s a poem by Rumi about all this;
Eyes shut Facing Eyes Rolling Around (excerpt)~ Rumi
Pay close attention to your mean thoughts
That sourness may be a blessing,
as an overcast day brings rain for the roses
and relief to dry soil.
Don’t look so sourly on your sourness!
It may be carrying what you most deeply need
and want. What seems to be keeping your from joy
may be what leads you to joy.
Don’t call it a dead branch.
Call it the live, moist root.
Don’t always be waiting to see
what’s behind it. That wait-and-see
poisons your Spirit.
Reach for it.
Hold your meanness to your chest
as a healing root
and be through with waiting.