Overcoming Habitual Negative Thought Patterns

by Colin Drake

I recently received the following enquiry regarding anxieties, worries and memories:

After running the usual gamut of non-duality offerings over the last several years, I encountered "Beyond the Separate Self", which I've since read several times. The discussion that hooked me, as it were, was your description of the mind's tendency, especially when idle or unfocussed, to create apparent problems out of thin air and then, ridiculously, attempt to solve them. This has been, by far, the greatest sticking point along my spiritual "path". In particular, when I awaken in the morning, I find myself still beset by a habit that has been ongoing for many years. That is, I become entangled in memories, thoughts, and concepts from the past (and also, less frequently, the present and future).


What follows is a period of depression and anxiety which is particularly aimed at my childhood difficulties and "failures", followed inevitably by a powerful sense that "I can't get it! (non-duality, that is). The situation can be very discouraging, As you've probably heard endless times, I seem to be one of those people with a deep and thorough "intellectual" understanding of "Oneness" (my default term), but, when faced with real, or manifest, life, my old fears, anxieties, and worries seem to persist, although to a somewhat lesser degree.

As I mentioned, I'm now retired, so perhaps idleness is truly the "devil's handmaiden", but, having realized and come to believe that my true nature is ever-present Awareness, I'm quite concerned that these painful emotional states still exist. I feel, in the parlance of AA, that I'm "talking the talk" but failing to "walk the walk". Perhaps you could suggest something that would help resolve the situation? I've begun to practice the meditative and journalistic processes you discuss in chapter 14, but I still feel somewhat stuck, unable to face "real" situations when they arise, and continuing to manufacture problems when they don't really exist.

Thanks for your time and your wonderful book.

Here is my reply:

Thanks for your enquiry which I think many people can relate to. As discussed in the book old fears, anxieties and worries will continue to arise but will lose their power if you don't identify with them. That is to say that you do not take them as indicators of who, or what, you truly 'are'. In this respect I can do no better than repeat:

The simple solution to this is when it comes to reality don't believe a single thought. Just rely on immediate direct experience, and this direct experience that you are awareness can be had instantly. As soon as the mind carries on with its doubts, anxieties, worries, questions and tricks, notice that you are effortlessly aware of every thought. If you then just watch the thoughts from pure awareness, without following a single one, they soon quieten down and give up. This is an ongoing process but it is no cause for despondency. For every time this occurs these negative thoughts can make you turn to awareness itself! And in awareness there is only serenity and peace … In fact, in the same way, every single thing in existence is a pointer towards awareness. For everything perceived appears in this pure awareness which is what you are.

The point is not to give these negative thoughts any weight but to let them come and go without following them or telling yourself a story about what they mean, or how they have affected you. Of course at the deeper level of pure awareness they have never, and can never affect you! This is easier said than done when engaged in worldly activity but by cultivation of 'awareness of awareness' this will become easier as time goes by.

man reading

Also you mention that they assail you as soon as you awaken in the morning. My suggestion here (which I adopt) is to sit and read some inspiring spiritual book, or article, for 20-30 minutes before 'relaxing into awareness'. This will put your mind into the right headspace so that this relaxation into, and investigation of, awareness is easier to carry out. Above all do not become discouraged, you say that you have realized that your true nature is ever present awareness ... now you need to honour that realization by cultivating it and becoming established in it. This can be done by reading inspiring texts and noticing that awareness is ever present at any time of the day, especially in your case as you are retired and have so much time available.

Something else I find helpful is to spend as much time in nature (walking and sitting) as possible whilst enjoying the pleasant sensations that this brings up. The smell of the forest, the breeze on the face, the wonderful vista that unfolds, the refreshing taste of running spring water etc. etc. This is truly fulfilling one of the functions of the mind/body as an instrument of the divine aware nothingness, through which it can sense, experience, interact with and enjoy its own manifestation as the physical world.

Two other things that occurred to me during the day are the fact that physical exercise is a particularly good way of making oneself 'feel better' and that memories, anxieties and worries themselves can direct you back to 'awareness of awareness' as their arising can be used as an indicator that you are identifying back at the level of mind/body. In my case I do a 15 minute yoga session every morning straight after my meditation/contemplation, which my body loves, and when the old worries/anxieties occur I have actually started to find them a cause of amusement ... as if my mind could be so stupid as to take them seriously!!

Love, Colin

To 'complete' this article I enclose the outcome of my reply:

Hi Colin,

Thanks so much for your timely and insightful responses to my inquiries. Rather than run about like a headless chicken in search of the "guru of the week" or the "ultimate spiritual book", I have decided to take to heart the specific suggestions you offer, both in your book and personal correspondence. I'm now meditating thrice daily on my true nature, which clearly and non-judgmentally observes all that is occurring in the relative world. I also take time throughout the day, when available, to reflect on this Awareness. Furthermore, as all paths are "individual", so to speak, I'm also writing down those concepts and ideas that give me peace and clarity.

In particular, I've finally started to realize that periods of extreme emotional turmoil, which always seemed so debilitating and all-consuming, are nevertheless simply ephemeral thoughts and feelings which arise in this Awareness. They are seen to have no independent nature (or "power") independent of awareness. This realization has been a great relief.

Finally, I'd like to add that, although countless books point, more or less, to the same Reality, "Beyond the Separate Self", at least for me, seems to cover all the bases, and for this I am grateful. Your kindness and obvious personal interest in my situation is truly heartwarming and, although I'd never barrage you with incessant theoretical questions leading nowhere, it's great to know you're willing to respond to a particular inquiry when I hit the inevitable, occasional, spiritual "wall".
In Peace and Gratitude..

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