Three Potent Phrases for Transforming Challenging Emotional Patterns

“…no matter what emotions arise, taking emotion as the path requires skill because emotions are strongly experienced in the body’s chemistry, as well as the mind.” – Tsoknyi Rinpoche

According to the contemporary spiritual teacher Tsoknyi Rinpoche, whatever you feel in any given moment is based on an earlier imprint in your being.
He explains that there are two types of imprints:

  • Learned patterns
  • Karmic residues

The number of imprints in our being is literally uncountable.  Typically, it’s these patterns that are running the show of your life.

I suspect these learned patterns are similar to the “deceptive brain messages” discussed in the book You Are Not Your Brain.   The reason deceptive brain messages are difficult – but not impossible – to change is because the very structure and function of the brain reinforces them.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche brings together the world of science with ancient wisdom to illustrate how we can change deeply held emotional habits.  He says, to bring awareness to our emotional patterns, we need a roadmap, which  has three elements:

  • Emotion, feeling, mood
  • Knowing, thinking, awareness
  • The reified “I” and sense of fixation

We need to work with all three elements to free ourselves from stubborn emotional patterns.

Once of the most important keys is to welcome emotions – even the difficult ones – rather than seeing them as the enemy.

The secret to overcoming a deep-seated emotional pattern is repeatedly bringing awareness to it in a kind and gentle way.  At the same time, we correct the misperceptions at its root.  The pesky emotions can include anything from a strong phobia to patterns of anger, sadness, anxiety, or other turbulence that repeatedly arise in our life.  Tsoknyi Rinpoche created three “modern mantras” which embody this approach.

Mantra One:  “It’s Not Me”

The first step is to fully acknowledge and accept the residue.  Instead of seeing it as an enemy, befriend it.  Simply be aware that you have a particular fear or emotion that arises like clockwork when triggered or sometimes for no apparent reason at all.

Normally, we are so enmeshed in an emotional pattern that when it arises we identify it as “me.”  For example, “I am a sad or angry or fearful person.”  Using the first mantra, gradually removes this identification with the emotion as a part of a concrete self, which Tsoknyi Rinpoche calls the “reified I”.

Normally, when the feeling arises we just go with it.  We follow it up with a chain of reinforcing thoughts and make the experience even stronger.
Now, instead, when the feeling arises, we can use the first mantra and gently say to our self:  “It’s not me.”

It’s important to repeat the mantra with great kindness.  Although your thinking mind may fully understand your message, the emotional brain doesn’t get it.  It needs to really feel it and take it in. It needs to hear the new message many times.

With this modern mantra and the gentle tone, you are skillfully communicating between awareness and feeling, and between the three different parts of the brain – the neo-cortex, the limbic system (the emotional brain), and the reptilian brain.

Mantra Two:  It Is Real, But Not True

When the feeling arises, it feels real doesn’t it?  For example, in the case of a phobia you feel terrified and the sense of  immanent danger feels very real.  The problem is that you believe the imprint.  But we actually have so many imprints that are completely off the mark.  They are no longer relevant, but they continue to rule your life.  This is something you can change with the use of these new mantras.

Again, welcome the feeling with an open mind.  Then speak to it kindly introducing the correct understanding.  “Dear feeling, I know this feels real.  It’s coming from an imprint that I had as a child.  It feels very real, but you know it’s not really true.  It feels real, but it’s not me.  It’s not true”

Kindness is essential.  With kindness, the emotions will slowly respond and change.  Harshness or pushing yourself too hard, will only make you shut down further and create further problems.

It’s necessary to repeat these mantras more than once.  In fact, it must be done many times to dissolve the imprint.  It takes time to change deeply held emotions and patterns that are etched into the subtle body.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche says that we need to change the  learned patterns before we can purify karmic imprints.  Once you change the learned patterns, he explains, its much easier to purify the karmic imprints.  Becoming a healthy human being is a basis for our spiritual practice on the path to enlightenment.

Mantra Three:  Happy for No Reason!

All the reasons and conditions we establish for being happy are unstable.  They are impermanent and subject to change.  Embrace the idea that happiness comes from within and remind yourself with this mantra:  Happy for No Reason!

Releasing Sadness

I have been practicing the first two mantras to dispel deeply embedded sadness that seems to come from a bottomless pit.  In fact, I’ve had different intuitives tell me that it’s not just my grief alone, but ancestral grief as well.  It feels endless and that itself can be disheartening.

When the sadness arises, I feel a contraction in my throat and then tears begin to pour out.  Now, as soon as I feel the physical sensations grabbing hold in my body, I gently remind myself:  “This is not me.  This feels real, but it’s not true.”

This is often times sufficient to relax the physical sensations and release the emotion. This is not suppressing or denying the emotion.  It rises up in its full glory.  But there is a way to release it instead of being overwhelmed by it and falling into a stream of sadness.

Using these modern mantras works for me.  I know I will need to repeat them many more times to fully dissolve such a long held imprint.  But I’ve felt their immediate effectiveness many times now.  Sometimes, I’m still swept away when the emotion feels especially powerful, but that occurs less frequently.

If you are troubled by repetitive emotional patterns, and who isn’t, these modern mantras may be the perfect solution for you.

Do you take your troubling emotions as real?  Have your found skillful methods for releasing them?

This article was based on the first part of a public talk given by Tsoknyi Rinpoche on September 23, 2011 at the Rigpa Center in Berlin, Germany.  If you would like to learn more, please read Taking Emotion as the Path, by Tsoknyi Rinpoche. Image:  Pundarika Foundation

If you liked this article, please share the link with others.   And, I would love to connect with you on Google+ or the Always Well Within Facebook Page.  With love, Sandra

9 thoughts on “Three Potent Phrases for Transforming Challenging Emotional Patterns

  1. Great information and advice. Good job of blending the science with the spiritual. I think, all too often people may be put off by what may seem “woo woo” spiritual stuff and dismiss how they can apply the tool because if they do not care what some Buddhist monk says.

    I think that I used to tend to be included in this mind set years ago. The information you relay as suggested by Tsoknyi Rinpoche is remarkably similar to the process developed by Jeffrey Schwartz that is successful in curbing OCD. The basic premise in both is that if you change the thoughts, you change the brain.

    I used Jeffrey Swartz’ method to change my thoughts and emotional patterns. I am glad I came upon it because I am not sure, back then, if I would have bought into something less scientific.

    • Hi Debbie,

      Thanks for your feedback. It makes me wonder if I should be more neutral. No monks on the blog! I know some people won’t relate, but some may find the photo inspirational and not even know why. BTW, Tsoknyi Rinpoche isn’t a monk. I know it looks like he is, but it’s just the case that Tibetan masters wear robes too even when they aren’t monks.

      It’s fascinating how science and spirituality are coming together in some very pivotal ways. I’m a big fan of Jeffrey Schwartz too.

  2. Brilliant! Thank you so much. I loved this. This going to be so helpful to me. You have no idea. I have been struggling with this. I have started to say to these emotions and thoughts: “You are not me” not knowing that this was something professionals recommend. This has helped a bit. But I never thought of reminding myself that “this is not true” and then finding happiness within and not without. I will try it. I also think I have found EXACTLY what you should write about for your guest post. I’ll e-mail you about it though. :)

  3. Loving writing and clear sharing of an important message. I liked the three mantras as easy steps to follow….I absorb others emotions and did my birth family’s emotions for them (British stiff upper lip folks) and have found that my most important work is debriefing emotions – these are great steps.

    You are Not Your Brain was such a great book

    Thank you for sharing this information.

  4. Thank you Sandra. Emotional patterns certainly are challenging to change. It’s so nice to have mantras to help. My favorite is “It is real, but not true. I have been practicing this one for years. I find sitting in a quite spot and writing in my journal helps to put things in perspective. I so appreciate these additional tools.

  5. It’s not me. It is real but not true. Happy for no reason. I love them all Sandra. Thanks for passing this on. All three are going on my index card for the day. I think happy for no reason is the best for me personally. A great reminder!

  6. Hi Sandra,

    I’ve never heard the term “ancestral grief” but it makes a lot of sense. I can relate to your experience sadness and grief. I have times when I feel utter despair for no apparent reason at all. I am blessed in my life in countless ways. Part of what makes it challenging for me to accept the sadness and grief.

    However I’ve learned to treat those emotions as guests. Yes! They are not me! It is so easy to welcome the pleasant guests – happy, excited, curious, and so on, but the unpleasant emotions are tough to work with.

    One thing that has helped me and might be helpful to others is to tell yourself “This will pass!” No emotion is final. It always changes. Just like the surface of the ocean our emotions are in constant state of ebb and flow.

    I still experience brief periods of sadness and grief. However the more I work on my path of recovery and healing the more I’m able to flow with it. I am grateful when my sadness passes. I know so many others deal with long periods of grief, sadness and depression.

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful message. Wishing you many blessings.

    Peace, Love & Gratitude,

    Neseret

    • Hello Neseret,

      You have so much insight and loving acceptance. It’s a joy to read your message. I’m sorry you have those moments of utter despair. It is so much harder to be with the upsetting emotions and just let them pass. I’m glad you’ve learned to treat them as guests and know they won’t stay forever. Thanks for sharing your insights and encouragement. You’re words are very uplifting.

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