Early on in my life, I found myself at times inundated with certain dark thoughts that just seemed to appear randomly and out of nowhere. They would show up at different times in my life and interfere with an otherwise pleasant time. They didn’t seem to have any cause. Asking why they existed only generated more unhappiness on my part, so I decided to pay more attention to when they arose. Knowing that the problem is next to the wound, that the solution is within the question, I noticed how, if it weren’t for these random dark thoughts, I would be feeling connected to my experience at the time. I would be more present. In fact, they tended to show up at times that would otherwise be particularly beautiful.
Skillful Means: You Become the Trickster
In this case you choose to become like the Heyoka, the Trickster. I have shared this practice with countless clients and students, and they report back how remarkable the results are. When negative, contrary, or dark thoughts arise in the mind, turn inwardly toward the thought as if you are about to greet it. Then do a small bow and say to it, “Thank you.” Know that this particular thought or belief would not be arising if the opposite weren’t actually true. Then notice and open up to what is really going on— touch the beauty of the moment. Turn your attention to your present experience. You then become the Trickster to the negative thoughts. You free yourself of a negative perception by not letting it block your view of reality, of the present experience. Instead it pulls you more into reality, because it becomes a flag that something beautiful, something real is actually happening right now. Let’s say you are enjoying a wonderful conversation with a friend, and you begin to have thoughts about what an idiot you are, or how bad you feel about your body, or something along those lines. Then identify these thoughts as flags and turn and face them. Bowing to them in gratitude, you say, “Oh, thank you, you would not be showing up if something beautiful weren’t happening.” The Trickster has taken back the moment. Soon that particular flavor of negativity will stop showing up—you have tricked it into oblivion, because it no longer works to distract you from the moment or to undermine your experience.
I have recently found this practice helping me with some separation anxiety that has arisen around my teen daughter. Also, a client shared how this “transformed” her experience of chronic doubt.
This old dog finds this old trick very helpful in transforming a negative perspective into something beautiful.
Wherever I went, a new life begun,
hidden in the grass, or waiting beyond the trees.
There is a spirit abiding in everything.
-William Stafford, from the poem “You
Don’t Know the End,” in The Way It Is