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  • Thomas Bien

Discouraging Negative Emotional States

As we all contend with the stress of the coronavirus, one teaching of the Buddha comes to mind as very helpful. This is the teaching on Right Effort or Right Diligence (virya),

This teaching concerns emotional regulation. It has four aspects: 1,/discouraging negative emotional states from arising, 2/ encouraging negative emotional states, once arisen, to become dormant again, 3/ encouraging positive emotional states to arise, and 4/ encouraging positive emotional states, once arisen, to stay in consciousness longer.

Today I will focus on the first aspect: discouraging negative emotional states from arising. All of these teachings are based on the fact that emotional states are all impermanent, and that whatever we frequently think about becomes the tendency of the mind.

So how can we discourage negative emotional states from arising to begin with?

First of all, this involves paying attention to what we consume—in this context, meaning largely mental/emotional consumption more than food. One way to attend to this aspect is to consider how much and how frequently we are paying attention to news about the virus. Are you checking the news on your cell phone many times during the day? Please note the effect on your consciousness of doing this. Granted, we all need to stay informed. But how much of this is really helpful?

And of course, this goes beyond coronavirus news. Certain TV shows, magazine articles, conversations with people, and music we listen to might induce a negative emotional state. So the main way to practice this teaching is to be aware of information we take into ourselves and how it affects our body and mind.

There is also a second way. And that is, as we practice mindfulness and meditation, we may be able to catch negative emotional states arising while they are just starting to come up into consciousness. If I catch it early, before it has a lot of momentum, I find that I can decide I don’t need to go there. This is quite different from suppression, which is not helpful: once a negative emotional state emerges fully blown into our consciousness, trying to suppress it will only make it worse.

If, between now and the next blog, you dedicate yourself to just this one aspect of Right Effort, I think it will be very helpful.

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