On worries and negative thoughts
By Petter Halvorsen
When we meditate, we sometimes drift into worry and ruminations. The stream of thoughts can bring about various inner dialogues. At times we get into negative evaluations about how we meditate: “Am I doing it right now? Is this a free mental attitude? Am I repeating the meditation sound properly?” There is often a critical inner voice that speaks to us and governs our inner action during meditation.
What would our daily lives be like if we were completely governed by negative self-evaluation? Our ability to express ourselves freely would be very limited. On the one hand, our fears about worst-case scenarios might make us struggle, pull ourselves together, and push our limits as far as possible, for example at work. While this might leave very little time for family, friends, exercise, and other leisure activities, at least we would mobilize, and might achieve something.
The other extreme would be to give up: “I can’t do it right anyway, so I don’t even need to try. I shouldn’t bother to take part in the conversation during lunch at work. I might as well just go for a walk on my own – I’m sure no one wants to walk with me. No matter what I do, it won’t work. I need not even try.”
As guidelines for life, negative thoughts, rumination, and worries can sometimes be more or less helpful – at other times quite harmful. They can make us mobilize in a positive way, but our depressive sides may take over.
What about meditation? When we repeat our meditation sound, there isn’t much that can go wrong. Although there can be periods when we repeat the sound with a less free mental attitude, nothing very bad will happen. In comparison, when we repeat the meditation sound with more of a free mental attitude, we can obtain deeper relaxation, be able to work through tension, and understand more of the process.
Our restlessness and critical attitudes can be activated in meditation, and this increases our awareness of such tendencies. In daily life, it is easy to think that others are responsible for the problems we encounter. In meditation, there is no one else to blame.
Even in meditation we sometimes take our critical and negative evaluations at face value. We fail to see that they are simply spontaneous thoughts that should be allowed to come and go as any other thought. They often become imperative: “Pull yourself together and repeat the sound properly!” Or: “You’ll never manage, you might just as well give up repeating the sound!”
If we look beneath our critical attitude and rumination, we often find something painful, sad, or difficult – like the inner voice Uncle P called “the bad guy on your back”, the kind of worry that sometimes dominates us. We might worry about sadness, loneliness, or pain and vulnerability that become too intense or hurt too much. Fear of rejection can at times cause us to lose a feeling of self-worth.
In meditation, we can approach the sides of us that are kept at a distance by critical thoughts. When we repeat the meditation sound as gently as we can, without giving up or struggle, we get closer to our inner limitations, the unfinished business within. Guidance, dialogue, and exploration can help us recognize that we tend to let negative rumination influence the way we meditate. Repeated attempts in meditation to try out new ways can enable us to develop more freedom from our tendency to such rumination. More of the free mental attitude can be obtained in the repetition of the sound, and we can learn to see our self-critical sides more clearly – as the phenomena they actually are. Life is not so dangerous or sad – but our psychology can make it seem so.
To see and challenge our self-criticism in meditation can activate our resistance. But sometimes we will also encounter parts of ourselves that appreciate being seen, received, included, and comforted. In meditation, we are in a position to do this; we are mature human beings who are able to include the parts that have not yet found a secure place in our lives.
We become adults who know more about our various parts, including our worries. Meditation becomes a room for maturation – a place to see ourselves.
Over time, such maturation, the inner experience that we no longer need to be dominated by self-criticism and negative attitudes in meditation, can enable us to act in new ways in daily life, with a new view of ourselves, our possibilities, and our choices.
Dire Straits say it in this way in their song Why worry:
Why worry, there should be laughter after pain
There should be sunshine after rain
These things have always been the same
So why worry now
Maybe this is something to have in mind in meditation and life?
Translated by Anne Grete Hersoug
Copy editor: Ann Kunish