How to Think Clearly when you are Upset

I was walking down the street a few days ago and a man whom I did not recognise gave me a hostile glare as he walked past. This is something that I am used and have been experiencing for a long time so I should be used to it. And I am used to it. But it still disturbed me a little and the following is the train of thought I devised to deal with the unpleasant feeling.

  1. The first point is that I am a controversial person and some people will like me; others will dislike me. This is true for all people who are out of the ordinary.
  2. The second point Is reminded myself of is the homily from Sherlock Holmes: It is a capital mistake to theorise in the absence of data. I don’t know anything about the person I spoke of – his nature, his problems or why he was in a bad mood. It is possible that his wife gave him a earful and he was feeling angry for that reason. It is best not to reach any conclusions in the absence of data and simply say I don’t know.
  3. The third point is that the BMI (body-mind-intellect) or the ego is not the Self according to Hindu and Buddhist scriptures. I need not get fretful about the survival of the ego since it is not me. In a sort of hard hearted comparison I told myself that Salman Rushdie being stabbed did not disturb me very much. Why? Because Salman Rushdie is not me. The ego (of Nikhil Gangoli) is not me either. So why get worked up about it. In any case all things are transient and it makes sense to be detached about your life.

What we should do ideally in such situations

The Satipatthana Sutra is one of the basic texts of Buddhism and teaches us the road to enlightenment. But it can be used to stay sane and balanced. Practice the mindfulness exercises the sutra teaches to deal with your feelings when you are feeling upset. Have them pass away. Then you can do your thinking.

Most of our thinking in unpleasant situations is designed to safeguard the ego and make us feel better. When I was young I used to go to great lengths to find reasons and excuses why I was not at fault when someone treated me badly. This whole train of thought was devised to make me feel better. Such thinking was completely flawed in both its purpose and process. I reached mistaken conclusions about myself and society and my thinking was confused and unclear.

The Satipatthana sutra offers a way out of the difficulty. Simply witness the unpleasant feeling (that is the unpleasant emotion) for some time using the breath to steady yourself. The feeling will pass away in due course and you will be happy.

According to Hindu scriptures our basic nature (or true Self) is Existent-Consciousness-Bliss. All our thinking and reasoning and finding out the reasons why whenever something bad happens actually makes us feel worse and takes us away from experiencing the bliss that is our true nature.

I dealt with my unpleasant feeling in this way and the result was that I was not bothered why the man – whom I spoke of – gave me the hostile glare. That is the right time to think or analyse the situation. You will be able to think clearly and in a detached way.

I have written a blog earlier about this same topic. Please visit the link below:

I would highly recommend you explore the Satipatthana sutra. Vipassana as taught by SN Goenka is based on this sutra. Here are two resources you may want to explore:

The second is the book Transformation and Healing by Thich Nhat Hanh. It is based on the Satipatthana sutra. The book is not easy reading but well worth it. Treat it as an instruction manual.

I’ll end here. Please feel free to share this article on WA, FB and Twitter and let me have your comments. Feedback from my readers keeps me going.

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