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I have been dealing with negative mental states in my practice. When it gets overwhelming I lose my sense of mindfulness and get lost in the middle of all the noise and I guess I identify with it, otherwise I wouldn't feel pain when it happens. Is it a good idea to bring myself back to the breath or should I face this? I usually try to accept the experience and the moment but it usually brings more pain because I can't see clearly what I am going through.

Namasté

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We can't put out a fire by burning in it. We must first distance ourself from it and use the right extinguisher.

If you can get back to the breath, that's excellent, but it's not always possible. The rest of the answer is for this reason.

You haven't mentioned the kind of negative energy or thoughts that come up, knowing this is important in choosing the right extinguisher.

For example, this is a good guide book to handle anger: Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thích Nhất Hạnh

Dharma must be good in the beginning, good in the middle, good in the end. There is no need to suffer through the negative emotions more than strictly necessary, sometimes further progress is impossible for a long time if we enter a downward spiral. Some call this the dark night or something equivalent. Facing our dark sides or Dukkha ñañas are unavoidable, but until we are prepared to handle it with equanimity we must have some shortcuts or hacks in our back pocket to get around the negativity, lest it consumes us in depression or hate and derails our life for years together.

Learn to practice loving kindness towards yourself and your mental formations, it is an excellent extinguisher of inner turmoil.

Helping others and practicing loving kindness towards all produces a gentle lubrication to one's practice.

Vipassana does not have to mean only hard work and suffering through the harshest winters of the mind and body. It can be gentle, and was intended to be beneficial and pleasing.

There is a time for serious practice, but there must also be self compassion.

May your practice succeed. May you be happy and well.

p.s. Knowing why an emotion arises is not always possible, the body is a highly complex system like the weather system, and like predicting the weather it is often impossible even with the best knowledge and equipment. Insisting on knowing why something happened before helping oneself by attending to it is unwise. It is like insisting an arrow not be pulled out until the shooter is found. MN 63

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    That really helped. Addressing the kind of energy that happens, when I wrote this post I couldn't quite figure out what it was but I figure now. It is a mixture of aversion to certain thinking subjects, fear and, at the same time, aversion to feel all of this. I am much more at ease with it and certainly feel compassion from all the people that helped me here. I am deeply grateful! Namasté. – Rui Torres Aug 8 '15 at 13:39
  • Glad it was of use. The mind can produce positive and negative energy through thoughts and memories while awake or dreaming. We can't always prevent these from occurring, but we can always be neutral in our mental reaction to it and not get carried away with each gust of mental wind. – Buddho Aug 9 '15 at 6:56
  • We can't put out a fire by burning in it. We must first distance ourself from it and use the right extinguisher.. Sweet metaphor. – dgo Jan 6 '16 at 6:32
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When negative mental states or strong feelings overwhelm one, one can go back to noting the rising and falling sensation of the abdomen. When one has collected oneself and regained mindfulness one can then go back into the storm.

Seeing how these mental states can harm one if identifying with them is also very valuable. One clearly sees how damaging it can be when one is following after these objects and taking ownership of them. When mindfulness is absent the mind will follow after objects that are pleasant and have aversion towards objects that are unpleasant.

The mind will take ownership of these unpleasant objects. One will think that "I am feeling pain", "I am hurt" or "The pain belongs to me". These are examples of how a self is created if the mind is allowed to roam freely without the rope of mindfulness.

When one is mindful of these mental states they are simply phenomena that arise and cease. They do not belong to you. They are not you. You are not them. They are simply impersonal phenomena that arise and cease on their own accord. Actually what you have been experiencing is how phenomena are uncontrollable and ungovernable. You have seen how reality is not pleasant and how reality cannot be controlled.

Don't worry too much about these negative mental states. If you have the concentration and mindfulness then try to turn them into objects of observation. In this way you can use them to cultivate insight into how reality functions. If it gets too overwhelming you can return to your abdomen and calm yourself a bit before going back to observing the mental states. If any aversion towards these mental states arises then that should also be noted.

With persistent practice mindfulness grows meaning that one will be able to in a greater degree be with reality as it is when it is. When the mind is kept in the present moment it cannot extrapolate on phenomena, e.g. identifying with phenomena, it just sees phenomena as they are.

Ven. Yuttadhammo has made a video called "Ask A Monk: Negative Mind States" that you might find useful.

  • I've been having such insights (the things you mentioned) in the last days. I guess it is something that I really had to deal with and see the true reality of it. Now that I think about it, it was those feelings and emotions that I pushed away in the past because they were so intense and full of immense pain, thus leading to more suffering and constant uneasiness. Thank you so much, the input here surely gave me strength and a sense of feeling compassion from you guys that helped me go through it :) I am deeply grateful. Namasté – Rui Torres Aug 8 '15 at 13:46
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    You are most welcome. I'm glad it was of help. I would suggest for you Ven. Yuttadhammo's video series on "How To Meditate" and also his book "How To Meditate: A Beginner's Guide to Peace". In here you will find valuable and solid meditation instructions. – Lanka Aug 8 '15 at 14:04
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    I have already been following Yuttadhammo's teachings for a while now. I even started doing walking meditation recently. :) Thank you. – Rui Torres Aug 8 '15 at 16:45
  • Walking meditation is a great way to incorporate the meditation into daily life. You might like this article on walking meditation called "The Benefits of Walking Meditation" by Ven. Sayadaw U Silananda. – Lanka Aug 8 '15 at 16:57
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There are several instructions from the Buddha that might help here, from specific approaches (e.g. "changing focus of attention", recollections, etc) to broad practices (like meditation and loving-kindness).

There's this pdf from Bhikkhu Bodhi which summarizes a large portion of practices from the suttas for dealing with unwholesome states in general.

One of these suttas is the Vitakkasaṇṭhāna (The Removal of Distracting Thoughts, MN 20) which might come in hand. A few extracts from it below:

“Here, bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu is giving attention to some sign, and owing to that sign there arise in him evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, with hate, and with delusion, then he should give attention to some other sign connected with what is wholesome. When he gives attention to some other sign connected with what is wholesome, then any evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, with hate, and with delusion are abandoned in him and subside. With the abandoning of them his mind becomes steadied internally, quieted, brought to singleness, and concentrated. [...]

“If, while he is giving attention to some other sign connected with what is wholesome, there still arise in him evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, with hate, and with delusion, then he should examine the danger in those thoughts thus: ‘These thoughts are unwholesome, they are reprehensible, they result in suffering.’ When he examines the danger in those thoughts, then any evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, with hate, and with delusion are abandoned in him and subside. With the abandoning of them his mind becomes steadied internally, quieted, brought to singleness, and concentrated. [...]

“If, while he is examining the danger in those thoughts, there still arise in him evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, with hate, and with delusion, then he should try to forget those thoughts and should not give attention to them. When he tries to forget those thoughts and does not give attention to them, then any evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, with hate, and with delusion are abandoned in him and subside. With the abandoning of them his mind becomes steadied internally [...]

“If, while he is trying to forget those thoughts and is not giving attention to them, there still arise in him evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, with hate, and with delusion, then he should give attention to stilling the thought-formation of those thoughts. When he gives attention to stilling the thought-formation of those thoughts, then any evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, with hate, and with delusion are abandoned in him and subside. With the abandoning of them his mind becomes steadied internally, quieted, brought to singleness, and concentrated. Just as a man walking fast might consider: ‘Why am I walking fast? What if I walk slowly?’ and he would walk slowly; then he might consider: ‘Why am I walking slowly? What if I stand?’ and he would stand; then he might consider: ‘Why am I standing? What if I sit?’ and he would sit; then he might consider: ‘Why am I sitting? What if I lie down?’ and he would lie down. By doing so he would substitute for each grosser posture one that was subtler. So too … when a bhikkhu gives attention to stilling the thought-formation of those thoughts … his mind becomes steadied internally, quieted, brought to singleness, and concentrated.

“If, while he is giving attention to stilling the thought-formation of those thoughts, there still arise in him evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, with hate, and with delusion, then, with his teeth clenched and his tongue pressed against the roof of his mouth, he should beat down, constrain, and crush mind with mind. When, with his teeth clenched and his tongue pressed against the roof of his mouth, he beats down, constrains, and crushes mind with mind, then any evil unwholesome thoughts connected with desire, with hate, and with delusion are abandoned in him and subside. With the abandoning of them his mind becomes steadied internally, quieted, brought to singleness, and concentrated. Just as a strong man might seize a weaker man by the head or shoulders and beat him down, constrain him, and crush him, so too … when, with his teeth clenched and his tongue pressed against the roof of his mouth, a bhikkhu beats down, constrains, and crushes mind with mind … his mind becomes steadied internally, quieted, brought to singleness, and concentrated.

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To answer your question: You should face this.

Gautama Buddha is such a perfect and wonderful teacher in every way... I am thinking of many passages that may help your problem but I think the most fundamental understanding is this:

You are trying to do the 3rd Training: Insight. Ideally, the Buddha recommended that this 3rd training should come after some work in the 1st and 2nd training. He also recommended that should we have trouble with the 3rd training, come back and work on the 1st two trainings.

What are those two trainings? They involve particularly the practices that would enable you to cut through these negative states and make them much more easy to overcome entirely.

Refer to the section about The Three Trainings in the free book "Mastering the Core Teachings." You will have a clearer understanding of how to solve this problem as well as navigate your self mastery training in general

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Simply put it when you mind wanders away and you realise it 1st see what kind of sensations you are experiencing. If they are unpleasant relax your body and mind and bring back your attention to the breath smilingly.

How you should relax your body and mind is to stay with the pain for a short while looking at arising and passing with equanimity. If is gross and solidified then pass your mind through these areas. This should be done a short time only, if it does not go away then just bring back your mind to the breath anyway.

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