It makes me really irritated when I find myself in a pissy mood or feeling down because of something another person did. It makes me even more irritated when this person didn’t do anything directly to me and just their existence is infuriating. Or they did something unintentionally that drove me insane. It’s such a waste of energy and even though I know this, I can’t seem to get the thoughts about how much I hate this person out of my head.
I really noticed it this morning when I went to grab a coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts. The woman in front of me ordered one of the unhealthiest breakfasts I’ve ever heard someone order, and I found myself stewing with rage with every word that came out of her mouth. But so what? If this woman wants to be unhealthy and increase her risk for diabetes, that’s her business. Her actions have literally no affect on my life, and yet here I am still fuming about it. I’ve started noticing this happen with other people too. A friend does something dumb and I take it as a personal attack. A woman on the train won’t let me pass by her to get off the train because she’s trying to take the seat I just got up from, and she’s trying to ruin my life.
Now that I’m no longer in the midst of those situations they all seem like very silly things to get upset about. But when you’re in the moment if feels almost impossible not to lose it. So how do you make it stop?
I’m reading this book called Why Buddhism is True, which I highly recommend, and the author talks about a lot about “thought” and the “self”. One thing that he talks about that I’ve been thinking a lot about is this concept of negative thoughts being invaders in our mind. So when you’re sitting there, minding your own business, and you start think something like, “Wow, Jessica is so conceited. All she does is post dumb selfies on Instagram,” that thought is invading your mind. You know it’s wrong to judge people, even if they ask for it by abusing social media, but the thought just creeps in. These thoughts aren’t always about other people too, in fact more often it seems that they’re about ourselves. Like when you catch a glimpse of yourself in a store window and the thought “ugh my thighs are HUGE” comes in, or you think “I’m not nearly as smart as any of these people in this meeting. Why am I even here?” (I think this one a lot). These are all negative intrusive thoughts that do nothing except make us feel worse.
So how do we make them go away?
The author of Why Buddhism is True believes (from the Buddha’s teachings) that meditation is one of the best ways to put up walls and protect yourself from these intrusive negative thoughts. He also stresses the concept of mindfulness; the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. Mindfulness can be obtained through meditation because meditation is all about focusing the mind.
I started meditating because I wanted more control over my thoughts. Part of having bipolar disorder, as well as other mental illnesses or just being a New Yorker, is being plagued by racing thoughts. When most of these thoughts become negative, critical, and judgmental you start to find yourself in a very dark place. But meditation or practicing mindfulness is like putting the brakes on these thoughts. So when your mind starts to race and go after someone or yourself in a negative way, think STOP! But just thinking stop isn’t enough because the mind will just start to wander back to the negativity, so you need to give it something else to focus on. When you meditate, the breath is usually a good go-to. Counting breaths, deep breathing, and other breathing techniques are a great way to quiet the mind. But what about when you’re out in the world? You can’t just stop and sit cross-legged on the ground. Instead, the first step is to bring awareness.
One of my yoga teachers wears a bracelet and every time she has a critical or judgmental thought about another or herself, she moves the bracelet to the other wrist. I started doing this too and it is truly disturbing how many times I have to move this damn bracelet. I’ve noticed the #1 place the bracelet moves rapidly back and forth is the subway. But for other people this could be at the gym, at work, or when you’re all alone and you don’t have any distraction from your thoughts. I highly recommend giving this a try because your thoughts may surprise you. So each time I start to notice my thoughts go dark, I take three deep breaths to give myself a “reset”, then I focus on something else like reading a book, playing a game on my phone, or anything I can give my full attention to. Pro tip: DON’T go on social media.
Don’t let your negative thoughts overtake you. We all have them and we can all fall prey to them. So buy yourself a bracelet (rubber bands work just as well), focus on your breath, and let that negative shit go. Make the world, and especially your world, a better place by removing one negative thought at a time.