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Lions Roar : September 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN SepteMBer 2009 46 basic human dignity. you notice you are breathing. you also no- tice that troubling thoughts and feelings are present in the mind. you are not here to make them go away or to cover them up with pleasant and encouraging spiritual slogans. there they are, all your demons, your repetitive negative themes. your mind is (to borrow a phrase from poet Michael palmer) a museum of nega- tivity. and you are sitting there quietly breathing in- side that museum. there is nothing else to do. you can’t fix anything—the situation is beyond that. gradually it dawns on you that these dark thoughts and anxious feelings are just that—thinking, feeling. they are exhibits in the museum of negativity, but not necessarily realities of the outside world. this simple insight—that thoughts and feelings are thoughts and feelings—is slight, but it makes all the difference. you continue to sit, continue to pay attention to body and breath, and you label everything else “thinking, thinking; feeling, feeling.” even- tually you are able to pick up your coat from the coat check and walk out of the museum into the sunlight. Confronting, accepting, being with negative thinking and feeling, knowing that they are not the whole of reality and not you, is the most fruitful and beneficial of all spiritual practices— better even than experiencing bliss or oneness. you can practice it on the meditation cushion in the simple way i have described, but you can also practice it in other ways. Journaling practice can be a big help. Keep a small notebook handy during the day and jot down an arresting word or phrase when you read or hear one. from time to time look at these words or phrases (they need not be uplifting or even sensible; they can be quite odd or random) and select the ones that attract you. these become your list of journaling prompts. When you have time, sit down with your notebook (doing this in a disciplined way, at a certain time each day, is best), choose a prompt, and write rapidly and spontaneously for ten to fifteen minutes, pen never leaving the paper, whatever comes to mind, no matter how nonsensical or irrelevant it may seem. in this way you empty out your swirling mind. you curate your own exhibition of negativ- ity. it can be quite entertaining and even instructive. another way to reorient yourself with your thoughts and feel- ings is to share them with others. if you are feeling fear or despair these days, you can be sure that you are not alone. no doubt many of your friends and family members are feeling this as well. rather than ignoring your anxieties—which tend to proliferate like mushrooms in the dark room of your closeted mind—or complaining obsessively about them to everyone you meet, which also increases the misery, you can undertake the spiritual discipline of speaking to others. taking a topic or a prompt from your notebook, or cueing off something you’ve read or written, or simply distilling what you have been thinking or feeling into a coherent thought, you can speak to one or more people in a structured way. bring a few friends together. divide yourselves into groups of three or four. after five minutes of silence to collect your thoughts, have each person speak as spontaneously as possible for five to seven min- utes on the chosen topic. the others just listen—no questions, no comments. if it seems useful, one person can give feedback to the speaker. not advice (it is a much better practice if advice and commentary are outlawed), but simply reviewing for the speaker, in your own words, what you have heard him or her say. listening to what you have said repeated back to you in another’s Confronting, accepting, being with negative thinking and feeling, knowing that they are not the whole of reality and not you, is the most fruitful and beneficial of all spiritual practices.