The Pros and Cons of Pratipaksha Bhavana: “Cultivating the Opposite”
Unfortunate to our circumstances is that we are sometimes servants of our thoughts. We sit quietly and then a slew of negative thoughts start coming at us like bullets and we’re left to fend for ourselves, not knowing entirely what to do and how to react. It is common for a lot of us to wait until they go away or to merely distract ourselves from these things. But how many are really successful in doing this?
The yoga sutra 2.33 gives us a little bit of help in addressing what the best solution is for situations like these.
“When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of. This is pratipakshabhavana.”
This is one of the most common way of dealing with any kind of negativity and although common, may not be the easiest thing to do. Depending on the intensity and frequency of these negative thoughts we may be facing a lot more work than we’re cut out for. So, it’s a practice. It’s consistently trying to take a step back from these thoughts and turning them around to go the opposite direction. Turning violent thoughts into peaceful ones, thoughts of destruction into creation, thoughts of greed into selflessness. It’s encouraging us to work on the opposite of what we might be predisposed to doing.
This is really great advice and can and would work for most of us, but how much of it is taking care of the root of the problem and how much of it is really us putting a band-aid on an otherwise deep-seated issue? Yes, we can turn negative thoughts into positive ones but have you ever considered identifying where these negative thoughts come from? Maybe it’s time to take a look at that too. Where does your head go when certain situations arise? Why are your tendencies, your tendencies? And if these things always come up then maybe that’s what you have to target.
There’s a reason for our thought processes and they could be caused by things that have happened to us in the past. Certain things that have affected us, traumatic events, bad environments, and other people’s influence on us can be some of these things. An accumulation and integration of years of this can and will definitely affect us and we can’t do anything about it. But we can do something to address these things better.
To a certain extent, we can use avoidance and distraction but to be able to completely get rid of it there’s more work to be done.
Whenever you do your sitting practice, observe your current emotional state and thought patterns, and if they’re harmful, try to see if these are connected to something from the past. How can you dismantle that past situation to be able to change your perception of it or to finally free yourself from it since it is no longer now?
Maybe that’s where we have to go for any significant change to occur. So, eventually, we no longer have to worry about working on changing negative thoughts into positive ones simply because we no longer have them.