Reducing Negative Emotions: Correct Meditation

How much are we reducing our negative emotions? Phakchok Rinpoche reminds us that checking this is a good way to measure our own meditation practice. We can see significant progress with regular short sessions.  In fact, Rinpoche notes that a single five-minute meditation can reduce our negative emotions, distracted mind, and ego-clinging. And if we observe our own minds and behavior carefully, we can notice that this is happening. If we observe our own thinking and behavior change, then it means that we are meditating correctly. Because less negativity means that we are using our meditation practice as an antidote. Practicing like this indicates that we are on a greater path.

If someone asks us about our meditation practice and we talk about how we are following one particular course or another – then Rinpoche warns us that we may be getting it wrong.  However, if instead, we say that we meditate because we are interested in reducing negative emotions, then that is correct. If each time we sit we become better in our practice, then we are authentically following the teachings of the Buddha and we are actually practicing an antidote. We are following the instructions to “tame your own mind”.

The Buddha often reminded disciples of the importance of reducing negative emotions. In the Dhammapada (pithy short verses attributed to the Buddha) we read,

It is good to restrain the mind which is difficult to subdue and is swift-moving and which seizes whatever it desires. A mind thus tamed brings happiness.

Rinpoche reflects that these days he reminds himself about correct meditation, and this is why we all really need to practice dharma.  If we are intelligent, we really don’t have a choice.

Dharma is Indispensable

Why is practice so crucial?  Because our minds are full of thoughts, full of afflictive emotions, and full of unhappiness. Most of us say that we feel stress on a regular basis. This is why dharma practice is really indispensable to us all. We can’t really do without it. When we practice we can see how right now our minds are completely under the control of our afflictive emotions. If we apply ourselves to the practice of dharma, it becomes the antidote that we need for our afflictive emotions.

Reflection Exercises: Are You Reducing Negative Emotions?

Take a few minutes to make an honest appraisal of your emotional profile right now. Are you experiencing success reducing negative emotions?  Can you say you are “having a good day” and maintaining an open mind with kindness and gentleness toward others? If so, rejoice in the fact that your practice is making a difference and carrying over from the cushion into daily life.  As you see changes in yourself, remind yourself that this is a slow process, but that you have already experienced some success. These small successes may inspire you to practice more. Have you thought about spending a day, or weekend, or even a week in retreat? 

But, if you’ve just reacted with anger, or with desire or pride or envy in a situation, consider that, without judging yourself harshly.  Simply admit that you got distracted and carried away.  And then start again. Make a strong intention to apply meditation to tame your mind. Throughout the day can you observe when your mind becomes dominated by negative emotions? How do you feel at those times? When you get angry, how do your body and your voice react? Do you feel tension, or burning, or tightness? What happens to your breathing, or to your facial coloring? These changes demonstrate the ill-effects of afflictions on our own systems.   

If one of the emotions stands out as a habit, remind yourself regularly to practice with a few minutes of attentiveness to breathing, or to an object.  Can you begin to interrupt the process of reactivity? How can you apply the meditative process to your mundane situations? 

Begin With a Few Simple Exercises: Developing Patience

If you lose patience more easily than you would like, spend a week or two really examining yourself in daily situations. Can you observe your own restlessness and thoughts impartially? Do you need to hurry so much?

For example, ask yourself if waiting in line really that painful?  Might it offer you an opportunity to drop into your body, feel the weight of your feet on the floor or your buttocks on a chair? Give yourself permission to simply observe your body and breath as you wait.

Alternatively, you might gently focus on an object in front of you. You can do this without staring, by simply gazing at something without judgment.  You don’t need to get involved in an internal dialogue about the time you are wasting.  How does gentle observation change your racing mind? Try this practice repeatedly over several weeks. What do you notice?

What can you personally do to avoid feeling stressed by a need to hurry? What would happen if you gave yourself 5 extra minutes to get to where you need to go? How can you remain open to the experiences you have, and yet not react in a habitual way?