“If you can sit quietly after difficult news; if in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm; if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy; if you can happily eat whatever is put on your plate; if you can fall asleep after a day of running around without a drink or a pill; if you can always find contentment just where you are: you are probably a dog.”
– Jack Kornfield
In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Book 2 Pada 33 states: “Vitarka Badhane Pratipaksa Bhavnam: When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.” In his discussion of this pada, Sri Swami Satchidananda gives the example of replacing the thought of hate with love. This allows negative thoughts to come to the surface but helps to train us not to ruminate too heavily upon them. He expands on this idea, saying if this is not possible, we can surround ourselves with those we love, in effect helping us to forget the negativity that is burdening the mind. He says we can also attempt to to thwart the negative thought by stopping to think what the ultimate outcome would be if we let it take control.
I’ve been thinking about this principle a lot lately as the quiet of winter sets in and my internal dialogue is amplified. “Vitarka Badhane Pratipaksa Bhavnam: When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.” It’s not as easy as it seems. While we can’t always invoke the inverse thought to settle the mind, we can at least change our focus to something better. What makes you smile no matter what? I personally can not think about the silly antics of my niece and nephew without grinning ear to ear and chuckling a little to myself. This is not an act of disconnecting from the harder realities, but rather a prioritization of a more valued connection to take me out of a destructive negative spiral. When we invoke feelings of love, others feel our love, causing a cascade of positivity. This not only helps us, but creates a bigger, more global opportunity to uplift those around us. Replacing a negative with a positive – even if it’s just in our minds – is a small step, but one we can strive for every day.