Saturday, January 30, 2010

Free Time

I ran into a wise friend and fellow teacher on the streets of New York a few weeks ago (I just love that about New York), and as serendipitous meetings go, she walked into my day at exactly the right moment. Knee-deep in my own melodrama, I needed help digging myself out of the proverbial black hole of negativity. When it comes to drama (the kind you wake up with in the morning...for the past ten years) it's no fun to simply "let go". It's far more satisfying to just let the whole thing snowball until the drama becomes a grown child who no longer requires supervision and can feed and clothe himself, or a self-watering plant. There's a switch somewhere we can flip, but we'd rather write and star in our very own reality show than shift gears. Attachment, it seems, is reserved for more than just pleasurable experiences (or the pain of our drama is more pleasurable that we'd care to admit).

So there I was, cameramen and crew in stow, going on and on about the same things I've been going on and on about for years, when my friend suggested a technique she finds helpful for just these sorts of things. "When I observe the downward spiral of my negative thoughts, I ask myself, 'If I wasn't obsessing over said drama, what would I do with all that free time?' ". Geez. That's like asking "What do you want to be when you grow up?" The possibilities are endless! What would I do with all that free time?

And suddenly, my mind was frolicking amongst the potential projects I could take on, the dinner parties I could host, the books I could write...I'd even have some extra time to relax. Why didn't I think of this sooner? The amount of time I'd wasted brooding over the past and worrying about the future was much effort and absolutely nothing to show for it except my increased blood pressure. Pondering new ventures gave me an immediate feeling of anticipation which, juxtaposed to my previous state of mind, seemed brilliant and long-awaited.

The genius technique outlined by my equally genius friend is one of the cornerstones of yogic philosophy. It's called Pratipaksha Bhavanam, which can be defined as simply replacing a negative with a positive, whether it be thought or action. Rather than a contrived attempt at feeling cheerful about your ever-present melodrama, it's about distracting the mind with something more productive. Elated with the prospect of dinner parties and homemade gift baskets, I lost the desire to drown in my negativity - I had more interesting things to do. So my friends, send the film crew home and start to think about what you'd think about if you weren't wrapped up in your drama. Think of what you could accomplish with all that free time!

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