Not Feeding the Animals

Task 29

Inevitably, things happen that will upset us. This task is not about trying to prevent those things from happening at all, or running away from unpleasant things that should be dealt with. What the task is about is the times when we upset ourselves on purpose, when we choose to expose ourselves to negative things, choose to focus on them, or choose to keep bringing them up in our mind. Part of us wants to be upset, and feels some sort of payoff from it. That part of us is not the “stillness” part.

Feeding the animals could take several forms:

  • THE MEDIA VERSION – watching / reading / listening to things that upset you, make you angry, annoy you, irritate you. This could be in the form of news, or reality shows full of obnoxious people (which, in my perception, seems to constitute about 50% of the shows on TV these days), or movies that inspire feelings of revenge or fear, or talk show hosts who always seem to be outraged. If you notice that any form of media is bringing up negative emotions, stop and ask yourself why you are watching / listening to / reading it. If the answer is, “To feed a negative emotion,” then stop watching / listening / reading.
  • THE SOCIAL VERSION – as Eric Berne said in the 1964 book “Games People Play,” one of the unhealthy games that people sometimes play is called “Ain’t It Awful.” In it, people compare notes about how bad something is, reinforce the negative feelings about it, and seek and/or award “points” for the suffering (e.g. you earn a “poor you; that’s terrible” sympathy tongue clicking). If you find yourself in such a conversation, either:

(a) stay in the conversation but stop playing the game, which would mean turning the conversation to something positive instead or pointing out that the thing isn’t really that “awful” (i.e. saying some variation on “I don’t mind the way things are”), or

(b) exit the conversation.

  • THE MEMORY VERSION – if you find yourself revisiting bad memories from your life, or feeling negative emotions about something from the past, ask yourself if there is value in revisiting that memory/feeling. If the value is negative (“licking your wounds,” fostering resentment, storing up grievances for later revenge), or if you can’t find any value in revisiting that memory/feeling, turn your attention to something else instead.

1. Catch one of your “wild animals”- identify the negative emotion when it is active. 2. See what it eats – notice the things it delights 3. Stop feeding the animal.