Rabbi Nachman teaches us that wherever our thoughts are is where we are. Negative thoughts clog our hearts, trigger emotions and impact our mood. Throughout history, the sages have imparted different ways to deal with negative thoughts so that we do not let them fester in our minds and manifest in our lives. Let’s look at some of these methods so that we may better handle the negative thoughts we encounter in our daily lives.
Part of the human experience is our inherent lack of objectivity - our sight is not like the lens of a camera, taking in and documenting exactly what it sees. Our vision is colored by our interpretation of the world around us, which is built on our past experience, beliefs, and present state. This is where the act of observing and practicing mindfulness come into play - there is a difference between looking at a waterfall and being in a waterfall.
Baal Shem Tov teaches us whatever we see in others that bothers us is merely a reflection of something in ourselves we need to change. The whole world was created for you, and these signs in others exist so that you can gain awareness and fix yourself. If you find someone annoying, examine what it is about them that is bothering you and you will usually find it is a character flaw that exists within yourself as well. God uses others to point out what we need to improve upon, so focus on the message rather than the messenger!
Changing ourselves is rarely an easy task - our ego and emotions are constantly getting in the way and trying to run the show. Once you stop focusing on the messenger and start focusing on the message, especially when it comes to your spouse, you will start interpreting situations completely differently! In your family life, start doing more demonstrating and less instructing when it comes to your spouse and children. People do not react well to demands or instructions, so it is better you improve yourself in the manner in which you want to see your family improve. Lead by example and you will be amazed how quickly results are seen.
Focusing inward on ourselves also prevents us from giving away our energy by allowing others to dictate our emotions and our mood. Blaming others is never a productive solution to any problem, instead you should take responsibility for the part you play in a situation and make the changes within yourself Hashem is signaling you to make. Remember that our thought patterns are based on our personality, so if you find you are experiencing a great deal of negative thought you should examine your underlying beliefs and values.
Rabbi Nachman teaches us that a person who thinks he is going to have a life devoid of any family issues is delusional. What does this mean for us? Do not expect to have a life free from any problems only to be caught off guard when a problem occurs! Better to have a realistic outlook on life and learn to be satisfied with dissatisfaction. This way you are prepared for any struggles or challenges which come your way and you will be able to surmount the obstacles and reach the rewards.
On the topic of delusion, one of the main jobs of our ego is to foster feelings of anxiety and depression within us - it will do anything to take us out of the present moment! Gratitude requires us to inhabit the present, and the ego will block us off from the present and therefore rob us of gratitude. We therefore cannot remain in the past or in the future if we hope to practice gratitude in our lives.
Why do we have the ability to have these negative thoughts in the first place? They are a prerequisite for our truly having free will. We are blessed with free will so that we may experience the rewards that come from overcoming the darkness and negativity in our lives. Therefore, you should not feel bad when you experience a negative thought but instead you should feel good when you overcome them! When we have overcome a negative thought we have won the war.
There is a problem in this generation - everyone wants to escape negativity rather than confront and overcome it. There are so many constrictions in our lives, and what we do with them is based on our belief system as this affects how we view them. We are taught the minor sin is the mistake itself, the major sin is dwelling on our mistakes. If God renews the world each and every day, why are we living in the past and allowing ourselves to get stuck on shame and guilt?
Chaos will always exist, our job is to overcome it rather than dwell in it. God created darkness in order to create light, so chaos must come first before the light! If you believe chaos is meant to be your state of being, you resign yourself to this fate and never get to the light. Our purpose is to find meaning in the chaos and then move on from it.
The ego plants the seeds of doubt in our mind, telling us that things are not going to work out. Rabbi Nachman teaches us God created man with two Yodhs - why did he do this? We have good thoughts and bad thoughts, good thoughts come from good places and bad thoughts from bad places. Anything good in our lives must have obstacles blocking our path to it, giving our ego a chance to get in the way. This is why you should never want everything to go your way with ease. It is normal for a rose to have thorns, otherwise it wouldn’t be a rose! Expecting perfection means you will always be disappointed.
Rabbi Nachman teaches us when a person dwells on a negative thought he clogs his heart and becomes closed emotionally. This means you miss out on opportunities as there is no room in your heart for you to receive them. In light of this, having a negative belief system akin to spoiling your whole creation! This occurs when someone goes through a divorce, adopts a belief that all men are bad, and now that belief is blocking them from meeting their soulmate.
When your emotions run your life, nothing good can come to you. When we are running on emotion we are prone to question God, when instead we should be questioning our thinking. Stop questioning your creator and start questioning your own thoughts and you will be amazed by the magic you see in your life!
It is perfectly fine to notice a negative emotion, but you must not attach yourself to it. Instead you should name it to tame it: observe the emotion, acknowledge it, and move on from it. This is one of the principles of cognitive therapy - looking at our thoughts rather than looking from our thoughts. Practice a nonjudgmental observation of your own thoughts so that you can seek to control them, rather than allowing your thoughts, emotions, and mood to determine your behavior. After all, if we only exercised when we were in the mood to exercise we would all be obese!
This leads into another common misconception in today’s society - an overreliance on feeling motivated. You should not rely on any feeling or emotion in order to get moving, just get moving and the feeling will come! It is especially important to get moving when there is a lot of resistance, as this is when we need to make a move most of all. Trust that once you start the action, you will feel better and when you have completed it you will feel great.
It is also important to examine our thoughts from a soul state rather than an ego state. It is far easier to forgive another person if we are in a soul state, as this is when we are closest to our creator and can emulate Him in our lives. Hashem is forgiving to us, so when we are in our soul state we are more forgiving to others. When we are in an ego state, we take things personally and are quick to anger, frustration, and hurt feelings.
Your mind has to work to help you solve problems, you cannot let the mind become a problem in and of itself! A soul observes intellect, it is not itself the intellect. When we are in a soul state we respond, when we are in an ego state we react. How can you tell when you are in a soul state? When you have an unshakable peace and serenity, and remain unaffected emotionally by others! If you find yourself in an ego state, you better press pause, take a break, and practice prayer and meditation so you can achieve a soul state before you react out of emotion rather than respond as your creator would have you respond.
Awareness is the first step towards change, so in order to deal with negative thoughts you should begin by observing your thinking. This way you can recognize when your ego is taking over and interrupt that pattern of thinking, replacing it with gratitude, mindfulness, and an inhabiting of the present moment. Once you master the art of letting negative thoughts go rather than dwelling within them, you will find it much easier to live in a soul state, your connection to Hashem will grow stronger, and His blessings will flow to you unimpeded by any blockages formed by those negative thoughts you have let go!