Pratipaksha bhavana (Book 2 Sutra 33) is the practice of replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. Negative thoughts are a kind of blame game – we can use them as an excuse, a justification, a defense against letting in anything unknown, challenging, or scary. “This happened because she is a terrible person. I can’t do this because the system is evil. It’s not my fault, this culture is too unfair.”
Feeding negative thoughts feeds hatred and builds a wall against interaction and exchange. We do this with ourselves as well, focusing on what’s wrong with us and feeding those insecurities and fears.
If we feed the positive, we feed openness. By feeding our own wonderful qualities we help them grow.
It sounds so simple to stop a thought and either just let it go or replace it with an opposite thought. But in practice it’s very difficult. I don’t even realize where my mind has gone when I am in the middle of an internal rant until I am well invested in the negative emotion. If I’m lucky I realize what I’m doing and then can try to change what’s going on in my head. Then I have to be vigilant about not watering the negative seeds I planted (they will still try to survive) and try to plant positive seeds instead.
If making a 180 isn’t possible, especially in the moment, then change what you are doing or where you are. Look at or listen to something that makes you happy, peaceful, at ease. Remove yourself from the situation or person over which you are filling yourself with negativity.
Try to think of the hurt you are causing, not just in yourself, but in the energy you are putting out into the world, into the situation you are in, or toward the person you are with. These thoughts lead to actions that take the negativity from energy to something tangible. How much hurt are you causing now?
I sometimes have days where I stew in negativity.
I’m taking the subway with my son in a stroller and no one makes room on the train so we can get on, so we have to wait for the next one, or the next one. “Jerks.” Or – my son loves to watch the trains come and go so now we get to watch more than one. Or – instead of rushing, now I have a few extra minutes to breathe and chat with my son and lower my anxiety level.
I’m carrying my son up the subway stairs in a stroller because there is no elevator in the station. “Jerks.” Or – what a great opportunity to use my strength and show my son what fortitude is. Or – the New York city subway system is a monster and the MTA is doing their best to address all the issues, it is a near impossible task with the infrastructure they are working with.
I’m pushing a stroller awkwardly into a building and someone closes the door right into us. “Jerk.” Or – maybe he was just blissfully unaware and had no idea what just happened, it was an accident. Or – maybe he was overwhelmed with something difficult in his life and he didn’t have one ounce of energy left to give and I should feel compassion rather than antipathy for him.
And then my son has an irrational but completely normal toddler melt down. If I had stuck with the “jerks” all day I wouldn’t have any patience or softness left to give my son what he needs. I know this from experience. But when I really try and practice pratipaksha bhavana I feed my inner strength that allows me to keep going with a steady gaze, a calm breath, and a smile. And then I can project that positivity back into the world.