Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Five Ways To Abandon Negative Mindstates

Another View of Right Effort

Right Effort, number six on the noble eightfold path, is generally described in terms of the four right efforts: abandon and refrain from the unwholesome, develop and maintain the wholesome. This is the classic formula in Buddhism for letting go of negative mindstates and replacing them with wholesome mindstates. But there is another way understanding of Right View.

In this less well known understanding, five techniques are offering for ridding ourselves of our defilements:

1. For every defilement there is an antidote (patience for anger; sympathetic joy for jealousy, etc). The first of these right efforts is to replace the defilement with a wholesome thought that is its exact opposite.

While our list of defilements is long, the list of antidotes is quite short:

Humility & Modesty
Moral discipline
Sympathetic joy
Right Speech

2. The second of the five right efforts is to activate these positive mindstates: shame & embarrassment, regret & distaste. Ordinarily in the West these are considered negative mindstates, but in Buddhism these are positive mental qualities that we can used to abandon an unwanted thought or action.

Here’s how: Reflect quietly and gently on an unwholesome action, seeing it as a little embarrassing or somewhat shameful. Then consider its undesirable consequences until a distaste for it sets in. Finally, as regret arises in us we use that regret to calmly push the thought away, shelving it until and similar situation arises again. Next time, though, when we look at what happened last time we were in this type of situation, the regret leads us to change strategies. No guilt, no wallowing, no ruminating.

3. In this third method, we confront the defilement directly, scrutinize and investigate its source and the source of each of its components. When this is done, the defilement quiets down and disappears on its own. This contemplative destructuring, which requires patience to learn, is a very powerful tools for evaporating everything from physical pain to depression. Email if you would like more information about this technqiue.

These first three are very effective ways to reset our behavior, to help establish new and lasting habitual patterns, leading to ever-increasing wholesomeness in our thoughts and actions.

4. The fourth technique is to strongly divert our attention away from the defilement. When a powerful, unwholesome thought arises and demands to be noticed, instead of indulging it we forcefully redirect our attention to a mindful presence somewhere elsewhere. This has a limited value, though, as it is weak at resetting our habitual behavior.

5. The fifth right effort, to be used only as a last resort, is suppression–to vigorously wrestle the defilement to the ground and keep it pinned there until it can safely get up and redirect our attention to something better for us.

Using these five techniques skillfully, we slowly take back control of our mind. The wholesome thoughts and mindstates we want become the thoughts and mindstates we have. And when an unwholesome thought does arise, we have the tools to eradicate it.