“One small positive thought can change your whole day.”—Zig Ziglar
Do a mental exercise with me: Think of a recent situation that ruined your day? Perhaps you received a message from someone and suddenly you were caught up in negativity? The list of things that can get us stuck in the mental muck is quite lengthy, yes? Things happen and we tend to carry the energy throughout our day. But it doesn’t have to be this way because we can process negative events and allow them to move through us. I realise it may be difficult to do at first but with practice, you can avoid ruminating on situations that spoil your day. I speak from experience as someone accustomed to holding on to negative emotions for hours. I discovered it was futile being immersed in negativity when it takes an emotion two a half minutes to move through our nervous system, according to neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor.
Think about that for a moment. It takes the time to brush your teeth for an emotion to move through your nervous system, yet many of us hold on to them for longer than necessary. We replay the memory of the event time after time and it ruins our life because we are not present but caught up in our minds. We are not truly living but trapped in the past. Can you relate to this where you found it difficult to let go of incessant negative thoughts? It is normal to make sense of negative events, yet sometimes we must avoid looking for meaning. For example, I would ruminate about a negative experience for hours, trying to figure its meaning. However, I was only processing thoughts in an attempt to ascribe meaning to something that wasn’t there.
It involves recognising the futility of holding on to negative emotions. They were impacting my day and my interaction with others. One negative thought at the beginning of your day is like a plant that grows branches deep into the soil. Soon enough, it is sprouting roots and growing at a rate impossible to stop. This is the analogy to what takes place when we become fixated on negative thoughts. Through our neural structures in the brain, they gain a foothold in our mind and turn into negative emotional states within our body. Emotions are not meant to be stored in the body but intended to move through it.
“The positive thinker sees the invisible, feels the intangible, and achieves the impossible.”—Winston Churchill
Is this something you’re willing to practise? Will you allow a negative situation to move through you instead of getting stuck on the one thing that can ruin your day? Your answer will dictate whether you remain trapped in your thoughts or allow life to move through you. This is a key point: Life is constantly happening on a moment to moment basis. Even our thoughts is life materialising through us and if we are fixated on one thought over another, we stop the flow of life which becomes stagnant. We ought to let go of processing circumstances by experiencing the event and letting it go. It reminds me of the story attributed to the Buddha in which he spoke of anger being akin to holding a hot coal in your hands. Your initial reflex is to drop the coal because it is too hot. The same applies to our thoughts. As unwanted thoughts enter our stream of consciousness, we release them instead of clutching to them.
I never said it was easy, but with practice and persistence you can let go of negative thoughts as quickly as they enter your mind. I recall an experience last year which involved a minor altercation with a motorist. There was an exchange of words between us that lasted a few seconds. After the event, I was able to return to a state of peace within seconds. In fact, I was laughing at the absurdity of what took place. In previous years, I would have ruminated on it for hours, perhaps days. Through my practice of mindfulness and meditation, I now appreciate thoughts come and go from our minds like ocean tides. To associate with all of them is a waste of time because we miss out on other enriching thoughts and experiences simultaneously taking place.
Life continues to stream through the tiny pockets of moments intertwined throughout our day. If we process thoughts based on what took place hours ago, we miss out on life bearing its gifts in the present moment. So, over the coming week try to be mindful of those thoughts you tend to fixate on. Stop and ask yourself: “Am I dwelling on fear?” If the answer is yes, drop the negative thought and shift your attention to what is happening in the present moment. Avoid distracting yourself by scrolling through your phone since that only delays dealing with your emotions. Be more present and aware of what you are holding in the container of your heart and mind. If it is not useful, let it go. After all, don’t get stuck on the one thing that ruins your day because it may be the very thing that holds you back from true bliss and alignment.