This afternoon, I was caught in an unexpected downpour of rain. Although I did have a small umbrella handy, my ill-suited shoes immediately leaked water, and my socks were soon squishing with every step. My face grimaced with displeasure as the water soaked through, and even after my feet were totally soaked, I still found myself trying to avoid the puddles.
Why did it matter? Why did it seem so unpleasant? Paddling on the beach would involve both wetter and colder feet. But when we paddle in the ocean, we want to get wet, and we expect to get wet. I tried to apply this same attitude to walking down the street in the rain – I pretended that I wanted to get wet – and in this way I stopped resisting the situation.
Why do we hold thoughts of unpleasantness in our mind? In some respects these unpleasant thoughts function in the same way as physical pain – as a warning, or deterrent. Sometimes the body is wrong though. For example, surgery brings us pain, when it is actually saving our lives. Similarly, the unpleasantness of being caught in the rain is the mind telling us to seek shelter, to be better prepared in future. These messages protect us from catching cold, becoming sick, and so forth. But sometimes getting wet is unavoidable. In such cases, holding unpleasantness in your mind serves no purpose but to add to your discomfort.
Can we eliminate this unnecessary pain? Have you ever told your body “no, don’t send these bad messages, this surgery is helpful”. I think this is difficult. Physical pain is deeply engrained, its very effectiveness is that it is hard to ignore. However, with mental pain, I think that the process is easier. The mind is more under our control, its responses are consciously learnt, and can be consciously unlearnt.
Therefore, observe the mind when it harbours negative thoughts, and ask what purpose they serve. There may be a lesson in these negative thoughts, but they may simply be a habitual reaction, serving no purpose but the creation of misery.