Dealing with negative thoughts and emotions

Delusions distort our world. With delusions, we project something from the side of our mind, and then we feel that the person or thing actually is like that from their own side, having nothing to do with our perceiving consciousness. All delusions do this, such as anger, which came up in this first article on delusions.

We give a disproportionate meaning to the things we are seeing, and misrepresent them to ourselves, and this leads to nothing but trouble. 

Pringles are good attachment to salt and vinegar Pringles

I really like Pringles. That, for me, has the same meaning as “Pringles ARE delicious.” Salt and vinegar flavored Pringles, to be more precise. Pringles are inherently tasty, unlike figs, the subject of my first recorded joke aged 6 ½: “I don’t like figs, that figures.” I might say to you, “Pringles are really good, try one.” We often say this instead of the more accurate: “I like Pringles, try one.”

When I have a craving to eat Pringles, the Pringles appear at that point to be intrinsically good and a true source of happiness. Again the neon sign is flashing: “I’m good, I’m delicious, eat me!” And it feels that it’s the Pringles that are doing all that. They are practically crying out to be eaten. This has nothing to do with my craving for Pringles, it’s just the Pringles, the Pringles made me eat them! negative emotion of attachment

Once I’ve eaten too many of them, though, I start to feel sick, and if I was forced to eat more than one of those tall tins, at some point I’d start begging for mercy. (I have never managed to get past three-quarters of a tin, personally, in one sitting, despite all my best intentions, so I think I know what I’m talking about.) Only a short time ago the neon sigh was flashing “Eat me, I’m good!”, now it’s flashing, “Keep off, your mouth is already dry and swollen, and I’m going to make you throw up!”

negative emotion of anger

There are no delicious or disgusting Pringles outside of my experience. I cannot find any desirable objects out there, anywhere, independent of my experience – whenever I refer to Pringles, for example, I am referring to the Pringles of my experience, the Pringles I know. For my mind of attachment they are desirable, whereas for my mind of aversion they are off-putting. This shows that in themselves Pringles are neither desirable nor undesirable, but they depend upon the mind. (If I add my recent discovery that Pringles are manufactured by a company that tests on animals, that also changes them for me.)

The mind and its object are dependent related. Without a dancer, there is no dance, as an old friend used to say.

Externalizing our happiness

We do seem to tend to externalize our happiness, believing that the causes of happiness are out there. Do we continually search for happiness in external objects, rearranging our lives to become happy? I think we do it all the time, don’t we, with people, movies, cappuccinos, carpets, careers, cats, jobs, etc?! (Just check where the bulk of your energy has gone since you woke up this morning.) That’s because of our attachment. We feel that the object is something we have to have, and that if we don’t have it we’re missing something.

Happiness in fact comes from inner peace — letting our mind rest free from delusions — and not from out there. But attachment is dumb and doesn’t understand that. Instead it projects a whole lot of pleasurable qualities on all the apparently attractive things out there, and then it relates to those objects as if they really did possess those qualities and were inherently pleasing: “If I get ahold of this and then I get ahold of that, and if I do that and then I do this, then I’ll be happy.” Attachment causes us to constantly rearrange the furniture of our lives, and for one hour perhaps we’re happy, or for about ten seconds, and then off we go shopping again.

headless chicken too busy doing nothing

Day by day, week by week, month by month, it is good to ask:

“Is it working? Am I becoming happier and happier? I am putting a lot of work into this, is it working?!”

If it’s not working, this may well be because attachment is functioning. It is making us miss the point.

WYSIWYG

All delusions are similar, projecting something that isn’t there and then believing it is there. We think, don’t we, even if we don’t always say it out loud: “It is like that. This is the way things are. The way I see the world is exactly the way the world is. What you see is what you get. WYSIWYG. I can’t help it if you don’t see it the same way, though I might try to make you because you’re clearly wrong and I’m clearly right.”

Delusions are painful and frustrating

In Modern Buddhism, (download your free copy here!), Geshe Kelsang says:

Delusions are wrong awarenesses whose function is to destroy mental peace, the source of happiness; they have no function other than to harm us. Delusions such as self-grasping abide at our heart and continually harm us day and night without rest by destroying our peace of mind.

All the tension, frustration, grasping and unpeacefulness in our mind come from our being under the control of the delusions. When they’re functioning, it can be agony. Pride makes us super-sensitive to even the slightest criticism. Jealousy is like a thorn in the heart. Self-cherishing can drive us to self-hatred and suicide.

delusions or negative emotions are painfulAnd no wonder. We are out of touch with reality and don’t even realize it. Sometimes our delusions are strong, sometimes they are relatively sneaky, but until we realize the ultimate nature of reality we’re going to be affected adversely by our delusions to a greater or lesser extent.

To the extent that our delusions diminish, to that extent our natural happiness comes to the surface. But right now it seems that we often feel an underlying tension or dissatisfaction even when our mind is relatively peaceful, and I think this is because we are still under the influence of our self-grasping ignorance, the root delusion that causes all the others. We continually think that things exist independent of our mind, that they are inherently existent, that they have nothing to do with us whatsoever. These are real Pringles. We set up a dualistic gap between our world and us, and this in turn creates a feeling of alienation and mental discomfort. Buddha explained that everything is actually a projection of our mind, even the same nature as our mind, but ignorance doesn’t get that at all. Our ignorance is currently functioning all the time and so:

It is as if we are continually chasing mirages, only to be disappointed when they do not give us the satisfaction we had hoped for. ~ Transform Your Life, pps 7-8

Delusions destroy our peace

monkey mind of negative emotions or delusionsAll our unpeaceful and unhappy minds are deluded minds. Whenever we are unpeaceful and unhappy, we have a delusion functioning, guaranteed! Our mind at that point is like a monkey scampering all over the place — grasping at things, throwing things. We have no control over it. For example, a negative thought arises about someone, focusing on their faults, and that’s it, we can’t do anything about it, we’re thinking it. We can be blissfully happy one minute, and then a fault-finding thought pops up and we become annoyed and our day is ruined.

Delusions make us mad

When our mind is free from delusions, it is like a clear, peaceful lake that accurately reflects what is going on around it, such as mountains and clouds. When a delusion arises, it’s like a sudden storm disturbing the tranquility of that lake such that everything reflected in it is distorted. There is a saying in the Kadampa tradition, “Always rely upon a happy mind alone,” because we cannot trust any unhappy mind. If we are angry or attached or proud or jealous, we know that we cannot trust that mind because it is reflecting something that is not there. We actually say things like, “You are making me mad!”, or “I’m mad about you!” and we ARE mad. Delusions make us mad. They make us stupid.

Delusions create all negativity

When our mind is under the influence of delusions, that’s when we do unkind, unskillful and negative actions — we hurt others, slander others, speak harshly to others, and even kill others. Greedy actions, including pollution, come from our attachment. Delusions don’t let us see the big picture and how interconnected we all are. If we check where all our own and the world’s negative actions actually come from, we’ll see they come from minds that are unpeaceful, distorted, and to a greater or lesser extent out of control.

Delusions destroy our physical health

Anger is linked to heart disease and other ailments. Chronically angry people, studies have found, are three times more likely to develop heart disease, and six times more likely to suffer a heart attack before the age of 55. As The Week magazine puts it:

Feeling that you’re constantly at war with idiots and villains gets your body stuck in the flight-or-fight gear; a flood of hormones and toxins raises blood pressure, narrows arteries, and eats away at your innards.

Meanwhile, attachment makes us indulge in things that are bad for our body, self-cherishing leads to physical stress and tension, and all the delusions affect our body adversely one way or another due to the relationship between our mind and body.

Our actual enemies

disturbed by delusions and negative emotions For all these reasons and more, our delusions are our inner enemies. They are arguably the only actual enemies of living beings because their sole function is to destroy our happiness and cause us to suffer. Unlike outer enemies, they can never be won around. They will never be trusted allies, whatever mask they wear. Therefore, if we really want inner peace, it looks like we have to learn to identify these inner enemies and see them for what they are. We have to see each one — anger, attachment, jealousy, pride, and so on—for what it is, see what it does to our mind, see how it makes us view the world, see what it makes us do. Understanding that, we can then start to overcome our delusions temporarily and then permanently, through various means. This is the practice of Buddhist meditation.

On one level we don’t need to be “introduced” to our delusions as we are intimately acquainted with them already, sorry to say. However, because they are currently so enmeshed in our minds, and we rely on them every day, we cannot always see the wood for the trees. Without some clear pointing out instructions I think it can be hard to distinguish our own destructive delusions from other, positive, constructive states of mind (see this article distinguishing between love and attachment for a case in point.) I find the clear Buddhist teachings on these common enemies mighty helpful and liberating. And you don’t have to be a Buddhist to apply this understanding in your life.

Try a meditation
freedom from delusions
Break free!

If you want to meditate on this, you can begin with a few minutes breathing meditation. Then you can think about some of the faults Buddha explained and ask yourself: “Does this apply to me? First off, do I have delusions, and second, what do these delusions do to me? For example, today — was I happy all day or disturbed, and why? Are delusions really my main enemy?” Hopefully, you will come to the conclusion that you do have delusions functioning (unless you don’t, in which case Congratulations!) and that they are your enemy, but they are not an intrinsic part of your mind and you can get rid of them. Based on that, you’ll be able to develop the determination to get rid of them. Bye bye delusions.

In the next article I do on delusions in general, I want to talk about the so-called six causes of delusion, as I find knowing about these is really helpful for ridding myself of delusions in daily life.

Your turn: do you agree or not that delusions are our only actual enemies? Are there any exceptions to this rule?