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In today’s reflection Vajragupta encourages us to identify negative thoughts and emotions in meditation and let them go. “Ah yes”, I thought to myself as I read this reflection, “let them go”… but then I realised this phrase has quite a particular meaning for me. I often use this phrase, to myself or when speaking to others - let go - what does it really mean and how can we actually practice it? Vajragupta does explain this when he encourages us to “Feel their effect, quality, emotional tone and let them go… Say no to the unhelpful stories - gently, but firmly”.
I find that a number of things are needed for me to be able to “let go” of negative thoughts and emotions. It’s a process and not just one simple action:
Firstly, I find I need to have enough of an intention generally to cultivate and maintain the positive thoughts - if I don’t have a strong intention to develop the positive, I can just get lost in the negative thoughts, without the awareness of why that’s a problem. So setting an intention and connecting strongly enough with that at the start of the meditation is essential. I’ve found at present that because the world’s suffering is so obvious and apparent, my wish to contact positive intentions has been stronger - there is a more of a sense of urgency in my practice.
Next I have to give the negative thought some space and attention. I have to understand whether the negative thought is telling me anything about how I need to move forward - is there any wisdom in it? What can I learn from it? Often, I find that there may be grief or sadness that is asking to be felt and experienced beneath the thought, or sometimes I can contact a clarity in how to communicate helpfully to someone I’m having difficulty with, without reactivity.
I find it helpful to reflect on where my mind, thoughts and emotions might go if I stayed with the negative thought - I can often recognise a tone of indignation within me. I have to ask myself “do I really want that?” Sometimes the answer is yes! I feel quite tightly identified with the emotion and I’m not ready to let it go! Other times, there is a realisation, “no, I don’t want to hold onto this” and then a relief… Currently, with the change of conditions in my practice and the intensity of the situation around coronavirus, I am trying to be particularly patient with myself if I feel that I’m not ready to let a negative thought or emotion go.
Then comes identifying where the corresponding tension sits in my body - softening into that tension using the breath and then reassuring myself - without rushing - I have to breathe with the emotion for a few breaths and then imagine that the thought or emotion is dispersing, with and on the breath, carried away… At present, I am using this method quite a lot, as my body is kindly reminding me regularly that I am holding tension.
Amongst all this, I find that I also need a kind of unhooking around how strongly I identify with myself and my experience. A sort of lightness and humour can help with this. If I relate to the emotion with too much tightness, I can resist and tighten even more… If I can find lightness, somehow that opens up the potential for change.
When I am able to let go, there is a relief, a release. There is pleasure and energy and space for something new to enter my experience.
We would love to hear how you are finding the retreat so far and any of your personal reflections around the material, so please do share them below!