An Army Guarding the Soul
In mainstream psychotherapy negative self talk and other forms of anxiety are often dealt with an ever so antagonistic manner. They deploy interventions like thought stopping or thought replacement, typically found in cognitive behavioral therapy. Even in some forms of meditation, people are instructed to shut up the negative voices and dominate the psyche in a preferred manner. This style of treatment is reflective of the entire impetus of western civilization to go to war with disease. What the field is just recently beginning to realized, at least in this context, is that a person trying to coerce themselves out of negative self talk is merely going to war with themselves.
It is important to understand that shutting out or replacing negative expressions of the psyche actually incites an entire host of problems in the person’s already troubled process. The first problem is that in the course of disagreeing with one’s self lies the creation of more of the same problems that had been started in the first place, and perhaps inadvertently creating an even deeper lament for oneself. The second problem is that for every negative thought one has, there has to be a respective positive replacement thought, which results an a multiplication of thoughts adding to more and more anxiety.
A more holistic way to mental health is to integrate the internal parts into agreement so that they are at peace. I do not recommend thought stopping, but I would not to discard it completely because it can be a useful as way of concentration and redirection of one’s mental orientation towards sensations and positive thoughts.
When it gets really interesting is not only when mindfulness gets introduced, but also when its deeper tenets are thoroughly examined to treat these kinds of symptoms. What I have found in regards to rhetoric and actual application of mindfulness varies across institutions and is rarely implemented the same way. I do not want to claim that one method is superior to others, but that some are more logically and intuitively sensible.
In the last decade of my meditation practice and scholarship, I have come to experience Vipassana as probably the most essential and primary method of meditation. The visceral application of Vipassana involves observing the breath and scanning the body for sensation, but the psycho-educational aspects rely heavily on the principle of equanimity. This Buddhist doctrine explains that all suffering and frustration comes out of thoughts in the form of craving or aversion, and that they are typically drawn from past regret or future longing. In putting it all together, the technique involves the observation of physical sensations as the basis, and as well as whatever feelings that may spring up from those sensations without having any reaction or association with regards to craving or aversion. So the meditator learns to attend to all that moves through him or her while not reacting in any way, and by default learning to develop a compassionate inner stability, and one that acts as a natural curative.