Loosen the Grip of Negative Impulses

Practice of the Week
Loosen the Grip of Negative Impulses

Category: Slogans to Live By: Carry these reminders at all times. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time -- but they will slow you down a bit (and that's a good thing.) Resolve to get stronger at living by these slogans, day by day. Sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling.

from Training in Compassion
Norman Fischer, adapted

"Loosen the grip of negative impulses" is also known as, “train in the three difficulties” -- because loosening the grip of those negative impulses involves three difficulties. This slogan (in either form) is for keeping us engaged with working on our various default habits: those unsuccessful yet compelling attitudes, thoughts, and actions that seem to keep coming back, over and over again, despite our best intentions.

The first challenge is to notice the first appearance in your mind of the habitual impulse. Can you be aware of the instant it first pops up?

The second challenge is to let go of the habitual impulse. Once it appears, it is compelling and very difficult to release.

The third challenge: rinse and repeat. The force of the residual habit energy will bring the habitual impulse up again. It’s hard not to be compelled by it all over again when it pops up again next time. Hence:
  1. Identify the habitual impulse when it arises.
  2. Let go of it once you recognize it.
  3. Keep going with the first two so that eventually it won’t come up again.
This is easiest to practice on your meditation cushion when there’s nothing else going on. You can notice painful or nasty states of mind arising, can see that they are unnecessary and unpleasant, can let them go by coming back to the feeling of the breath and the body, and you can keep on doing this.

Once you're off your cushion, during the rest of the day, life is a lot more complicated. Use this simple three-step practtice:
  • First, notice when habitual negative thinking arises (same as the first challenge).
  • Second, stop for a moment. Literally, stop. If you’re walking, stop walking; if you are sitting, stand up; if you are thinking, stop thinking.
  • Third, take a breath. Return to awareness with that breath
This simple three-step practice is surprisingly powerful and can be applied to any habitual thought pattern.

Slogan-practice does not require us to be perfect. Quite the contrary. Slogan-practice recognizes that the mind is extremely difficult to train and that mostly the training will proceed from failure to failure. That’s normal. If you can notice that you are in a mess, can simply stop right there (without self-recrimination), take a breath, and with that breath return to positive intentions – and if you can do this time and time again – then you’re doing the practice perfectly.

"Train in the Three Difficulties"
Judith Lief, adapted

Mind training uncovers and develops confidence in one's own inherent goodness and that of all beings. It cultivates loving-kindness. To do this, however, requires going directly to the dark side, to what prevents one's awakened quality from manifesting. This is no easy task.

"Train in the Three Difficulties" is about facing difficulties. It is nice to bask in little moments of inspiration or calmness, or altruism. It is inspiring and gives us hope. To stay with our obstacles, blockages, and neuroses long enough to figure out how to deal with them is harder. It is embarrassing and disheartening, so we bounce away, pretending it isn’t so, or hoping for the best.

The first difficulty is that obstacles arise too quickly for us to catch. It is hard to slow down enough to recognize the first instant when a neurotic thought or emotion arises. There are endless varieties, but the traditional list of such upsetting emotion-obstacles includes passion, aggression, ignorance, jealousy, and pride. Usually, by the time we recognize that we have been captured by confused emotionalism, it is too late: we are already overwhelmed. So the first training is to try to be a little quicker on the draw, and to recognize them as soon as they arise.

The second difficulty is overcoming emotion-obstacles once they appear. When such a difficulty has moved in on us, it is very hard to know what to do about it. We must learn to undermine them at their root, which is our fixation on ourself.

The third difficulty is that the emotion-obstacles keep coming back: it is hard to cut through them. The third task is to stop buying into the emotion-obstacles, stop being attached to them, and stop inviting them back.

Practice: Instead of battling big deal emotional hang-ups, practice paying attention to the tiny little shifts of thought that, like a match to a fuse, cause a big explosion of confusion.
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