I ran into a fellow teacher on the streets of New York a few weeks ago (I just love that about New York) and, as serendipitous meetings go, she walked into my day at exactly the right moment. Knee-deep in my own melodrama, I was desperately trying to dig myself out of that black hole of negativity. When it comes to our baggage, it’s hard to let go. Even if our negative narrative creates suffering, there’s a strange satisfaction in just letting the whole thing snowball into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Somewhere deep inside we know there’s a switch we can flip, but we can’t help ourselves. On some level, the pain of our drama is more pleasurable than our desire to move beyond it.
So there I was, free falling into the vortex, when my peer suggested a technique she finds helpful. “When I observe the downward spiral of my negative thoughts, I ask myself, ‘If I wasn’t obsessing over said drama, what would I do with all that free time?’ ” Geez. When I looked at the time I spent chewing on my story, I realized just how much energy I was wasting. I could free up so much space in my mind simply by redirecting my attention. What would I do with all that free time? The possibilities were endless!
Why didn’t I think of this sooner?
My friend shared one of the cornerstones of yogic philosophy in an unexpected way. Pratipaksha Bhavanam is the practice of replacing a negative thought with a positive one. One of my favorite definitions of pratipaksha bhavanam is to replace a negative thought with a positive action. Pratipaksha bhavanam is not a contrived attempt to feel cheerful about your pain. It’s about redirecting your attention to something uplifting.
In that moment I chose to think about things that lift my spirit, like hosting dinner parties and spending time with my beloved. I lost the desire to drown myself in negativity because I had more interesting things to do.
Take a moment and consider what you could do with all the time you spend focusing on the thoughts that create suffering in your life. Think of what you could accomplish with all that free time! How could you practice pratipaksha bhavanam and switch gears from negativity to something uplifting?