Negative Thoughts, Be Gone!

Negative Thoughts, Be Gone!
Black and white line drawing of a person overwhelmed by a swirl of negative thoughts around them.

Negative thoughts, be gone!

I’m reading the handbook for combatting demons by Evagrius Ponticus, a 4th c. Christian monk. He clearly states that his demons are negative thoughts. And that he talks back to them–in Bible verses.

Evagrius’s handbook is very personal. It’s a long list of his own habitual negative thoughts and the verses he uses to silence them. So, inspired, I am compiling my own handbook. Mine is also personal, tailored to my own demons.

When I reach a space in thought and am tempted to fill it with social media doom-scrolling, I say: In a beginning God created the heavens & the earth. The earth was chaotic & void & the spirit of God hovered over the waters. (Gen.1:1-2)

Because I don’t want to avoid my own emptiness. Instead, I want to use it as a chance to notice the spirit of God.

When I wake up in the middle of the night and all my self-doubts crowd in, I say: Walk around Zion, circle it, count its towers, take note of its ramparts. (Psalms 48:13-14)

Because I just want to keep the doubts at bay. So that I can enjoy a healing sleep.

When I worry we are all going to die, I say: Can these bones live? (Ezekiel 37:3)

Because I know Ezekiel finds out they can.

When I’m afraid to say something directly, I tell myself: The King extended to Esther the golden sceptre. (Esther 5:2)

Because Esther, who was afraid to speak lest she die, did it anyway. And it worked.

When I judge a stranger negatively, I send this thought in their direction: May the LORD bless you and keep you! (Numbers 6:24)

Because maybe they are precious just as they are, and I’m just crabby. Or maybe they do need to improve. Either way, this blessing fits.

Friends, this exercise is so powerful. Partly because I know the Bible well, so each verse is rich with story. But mostly because the practice pushes me to identify my negative thoughts and step in before I mis-direct them.

I’m already seeing the results.

Here is an example. Occasionally–well, often since COVID-19–I become angry. Very angry, and I don’t know why. So, I feel I cannot speak about the anger rationally. And then, instead of talking, I do something unhelpful, like punch the kitchen table. Of course, this fixes nothing. It just hurts me and inflames the anger.

Yesterday I was about to do it again. But, instead, I said, “STOP! Do not do this. Yes, you are enraged. Now accept your feeling, and deal with your rage.”

Today the impulse tempted me again. But I saw it happen and I said “STOP!” I didn’t have time to find a Biblical verse. But that’s okay, I think. The verses are a tool. They train us to talk back. But eventually, we find our own words.

Image: A Chaotic Mind by HammerGod,

  1. The early Christian monks and Church Fathers have always fascinated me. Their direct and profound visions and approach to life offer great wisdom. You have just spiked my emotional excitement, Rabbi Laura, with this way of dealing with negative thoughts.
    Thank you always for your amazing and compassionate insight.
    I am blessed to have found your blog!

    1. Thank you, Mati. If you experiment with the practice, please do share some of what has worked for you! Blessings for joy and good health!

  2. Perhaps this would be a comfort when constrained on all sides and forces are trying to push us in an unwanted direction.
    Deut 31:8
    And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he
    will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither
    forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.

    1. Thanks, Robert. That’s a great verse for reminding us that we are not alone.

  3. Thank you ….. feels like going the extra mile beyond cognitive therapy into the rich depth of spirit.
    Also thanks for the person example…. Covid is an emotional challenge … how to stay healthy when things are not better….

    1. Thanks, Laurie! And thanks for connecting this with psychological practice.

  4. So we have evidence of the use of CBT from the 4th c. There are, no doubt, a multitude of published papers missing this citation!!!. Thanks for the reminder. I need to use this more consistently.

    1. Thanks, Leora! Yes, lots of resources in the history of spiritual psychology!

  5. This morning, having downloaded your reconciliation handbook, I started browsing your blog for the first time. I was fascinated by the concept and practice you describe in “Negative thoughts, be gone!” especially this one:
    “When I judge a stranger negatively, I send this thought in their direction: May the LORD bless you and keep you! (Numbers 6:24)”
    “Because maybe they are precious just as they are, and I’m just crabby. Or maybe they do need to improve. Either way, this blessing fits.”

    My first response was, I could really use something like that ro replace the venom I’ve been spewing at folks without masks in grocery stores and the like.

    Then I realized that I already had one that I’d used on and off since reading Bo Lozoff’s inspiring book, _We’re All Doing Time_ back in the nineties, but had largely allowed to fall into disuse: breathing in, “G-d in,” breathing out, “G-d out,” until the intrusive negative thought disappears (usually after only two or three cycles) .

    Definitely a practice I need to revive, and maybe reread the book, as well. It’s really a propos these times!

    Thanks so much for the reminder that there are ways that I can avoid adding to the negative energy in the world, even when I feel so strongly in the moment that “I” need to let these folks know how pissed off I am. (i.e., how helpless they “make” me feel).

    1. Maxine, thanks for this beautiful comment. I will revisit Bo Lozoff’s book! Breathing consciously is a most basic and most powerful tool we have…when we remember to use it! – Laura

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