How To Overcome Negative Thoughts

By Tergar Community Team • 6 min read

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The cloudless sky

How to overcome our negative thoughts is a question asked by so many. There is a simple understanding that can help with overcoming negative thoughts. Your fundamental quality is pure awareness, as free and present as the sky.

However, awareness is much bigger than thoughts or emotions, which come and go like clouds in that sky. It’s really important to recognize this. Otherwise, you’ll mistake your thoughts for who you really are. That leads to problems, especially when destructive thoughts arise — hatred, jealousy, blame, fear, self-loathing, and so on.

A sun is pictured as a metaphor to help overcome negative emotions

Making mountains out of molehills

To cope with destructive thoughts, we need to understand that what is really happening is a failure to recognize our mind’s true nature. We get muddled when we confuse our conceptual mind — the way we perceive external objects, the way we feel and think — for reality. And, in doing so, we end up exaggerating our problems.

Driving the car of suffering

This tendency to exaggerate is fed by aversion and craving. Aversion is the quality that makes you fearful, unhappy, depressed, panicky . . . basically, you know you’re experiencing aversion when the unpleasant feelings start. It makes you want to hit the brakes: “Nope! I don’t want this!” Craving is more nuanced; it can bring both pleasant and unpleasant feelings, as anyone who’s ever been in love (or eaten a whole pint of ice cream at once) can testify. Its defining feature is that it propels us forward, like an accelerator: “I want. I need. Bring it on.”

“When you don’t understand the nature and origin of your thoughts, your thoughts use you.”

– Mingyur Rinpoche –

Thumbs up, thumbs down

Constantly toggling between acceleration and braking makes for a very rough ride. Yet, we rely on aversion and craving as tools of survival, our primary way to judge and interact with the world. Within seconds of encountering something or someone new, we reflexively form a judgment: either “I like” or “I don’t like.” And, if the thumbs-down impulse is strong, the object of our aversion gradually seems more and more bothersome. When the object of our aversion is our own destructive thoughts, it can feel like we’re trapped in a very painful spot.

The great alternative

Despite the fact that it doesn’t benefit us, we rely on aversion and craving to guide us because we erroneously believe that’s all that we have to work with. We aren’t conscious of the tremendous awareness, love and compassion, wisdom, and skills within us. In fact, those qualities exist within the aversion and craving! We can find this out for ourselves by meditating with destructive thoughts and emotions. The first step in this process is to practice resting in awareness. You can achieve that with breath — just knowing that you’re breathing in and out. Or you can bring your attention to the sounds around you. Alternatively, you can come up with a phrase in your mind and recite it to yourself, for example, “I’m okay.” Practice this basic awareness for at least a few weeks. Once you’ve established this baseline, you can move on to working with destructive thoughts or emotions directly. Even then, remember to always begin with something you feel is manageable.

Taking back the power

You will notice that whenever destructive thoughts or emotions arise, they come with bodily sensations. In your meditation practice, bring your awareness to whatever sensations arise, without trying to control or block them. Sometimes, you’ll find that you can’t find any sensations. That’s fine, too — stay with that. As you stay with the feelings, or lack thereof, your aversion will slowly dissipate. As you continue to abide with them, images will arise. Your inner voice will start airing beliefs, such as “this doesn’t feel great” or “maybe this isn’t working.” Watch all of it, stay with all of it, without attempting to change it.
There are four components to destructive thoughts and feelings: sensation, image, voice, and belief. All of those are in constant flux. Sensations are changing; images are coming and going; the voice is expressing different beliefs. When all four are experienced together without bringing awareness in, you get panic, depression, anger, jealousy, low self-esteem, or the like. But by bringing your awareness to sensations, images, voice, and belief, you will discover that you are able to strip your destructive thoughts of their power.

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About the Author

By Tergar Meditation Community Team

Tergar Meditation Community supports individuals, practice groups, and meditation communities around the world in learning to live with awareness, compassion, and wisdom. Grounded in the Tibetan Buddhist lineage of our guiding teacher, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, our online and in-person programs are accessible to people of all cultures and faiths, and support a lifelong path toward the application of these principles in everyday life.

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