October 7, 2012

In Praise of Negative Mind. ~ Nancy McCaochan

When Looking Out Anger’s Window Opens It.

In the Kundalini system of yoga that I’ve begun studying, human beings are endowed with three minds—negative, positive and neutral.

Negative mind, protective in nature, greets new situations with caution. The positive mind sees beyond apparent danger to find opportunity. It hones in on the silver lining in each cloud.

Neutral mind sees the big picture. Known as the “witness” in other yoga and meditation traditions, neutral mind is that part of our awareness that says, “All is well. I see both what’s lost and gained. And I also see how both are part of the overall progress of this lifetime.”

The yoga practices I’ve enjoyed most over the past 17 years have been those that take me into neutral mind. For example, I love the feeling of exploring my body from the inside out while I’m in a Hatha yoga pose. For me, this is most easily accomplished by using a measured breath as both a focal point for my mind and as a means of activating my parasympathetic nervous system so that I relax my need to control my body or the outcome of the session. Breathing deeply with even inhalations and exhalations helps me enter a light trance state. From within this slightly altered consciousness, I can direct my mind to the various sites of sensation throughout my body and sometimes even see where my knee is misplaced, or my shoulder misaligned or the energy in my neck is beginning to flow as the muscles release.

When I first started to practice yoga seriously and to teach, my personal life was exciting, but chaotic. I was somewhat newly divorced, newly employed in the first full-time job of my life, and newly discovering that there was a spiritual dimension to life that I knew little about. I was alternately terrified and exhilarated by the future. I listened to Louise Hay and worked diligently on affirming only positive outcomes to my life. Mostly though, my emotional life was filled with extremes. The only time I felt calm and centered was when I was either taking or teaching yoga. My breath instantly brought me into neutral mind. The calm I felt at such times opened inner space unto infinity. It was delicious, and because neutral mind was so yummy, I tried to bring it into my daily life.

What happened, however, is that instead of truly living in a place of non-reactivity, I suppressed my likes and dislikes in order to live in the semblance of peace.

Underneath the surface of a calm demeanor, distinct preferences operated—often well below the radar of my own conscious mind. People who know me well, however, could detect my inner attitudes and often reacted to me in ways that I found puzzling because they knew more about what I was feeling than I did.

Most communication occurs non-verbally and most of this can be attributed to subtleties of body posture, facial expressions and gestures that are largely unconscious. This means that they result from reactions that are projected through our bodies into the world around us. Yoga, with its cultivation of witness conscious/neutral mind, helps us get below the surface of personality and ego armoring into what’s really going on. But for this process to be successful, we’ve got to truly give up our preferences.

I was so attached to peacefulness that I was unable to accept my anger, envy or judgment. Initially, I hid them from others in the name of not rocking the boat. As time wore on, I hid them from myself. “Yoga teachers don’t get angry,” was the underlying belief that fed this deception.

Ayurveda came to my rescue, as did some very painful events that forced me to look at the attitude underlying most of what I was doing. According to yoga’s sister science, my constitution is nearly pure pitta. As such, my first reaction to anything that I don’t understand is anger. This emotion is negative mind attempting to protect me from danger—the danger of the unknown, the danger that I’ll fail because I’m not good enough, and the danger that I’ll be rejected by those I love.

The perception of danger is really nothing more than fear, and according to Patanjali, “even the sages have fear.” It’s part of being human.

Ultimately, human fear is ego driven. We fear the end—the end of our lives, the end of a love, the end of an idea or a season, situation or lifestyle. Many of us practice the “glass half full” way of looking at the world and this can be both uplifting and healthy. As can spending as much time as possible in calm detachment of the neutral witness.

But I’d like to suggest that, in order to make real progress along the spiritual path, we also need to embrace the negative, protective mind. Negative mind holds the key to our deeply held patterns of belief and behavior. When we acknowledge and honor our internal resistance, the energetic patterns that keep us stuck begin to surface.This is the first and biggest step towards letting them go.


Nancy McCaochan, MA, ERYT-500, lives, writes and teaches in metro-Detroit.  She’s the author of Like Stanzas in a Poem: Yoga at the Wall.




Editor: Edith Lazenby

 Like on elephant Yoga on Facebook


Read 7 Comments and Reply

Read 7 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Elephant journal  |  Contribution: 1,375,490