When someone stole my laptop in Cambodia, it turned into a bit of a drama. The frustrating memory continued to send me into a downward spiral. Luckily, I was living at a yoga center, which inspired me to create the process of “vaulting.” Now it is a powerful tool I use for managing negativity.
I wasn’t so upset about the thing that was stolen. In fact, I’m pretty sure the thief was disappointed with his spoils. He probably went through a lot of effort. Staked out the place, climbed up a formidable wall. Stealthily snooped for valuable treasures. Unfortunately for him, he ended up with my 5-lb, 6 year old, absurdly dysfunctional laptop.
Nicknamed “the airplane” for the broken fan’s loud revving noise, my laptop had devolved into more of a make-shift desktop. Battery damage required it to be plugged into the wall at all times. At some point I bought an external keyboard because the original “b” and “n” keys refused to work. The thief had sadly left behind both the charger and the keyboard.
The real loss for me though, was information. Various documents and work that my hoarder side thought I’d need one day. Memories captured in cherished photos from the past 6 years of travel that (purposefully) didn’t make it to a Facebook album.
Essentially, the ‘ole airplane was a personal time capsule. I had assumed that she would be in my possession forever. And, like an old friend, I just couldn’t seem to let her go.
In my quest to find her, I spent a few days playing “who dunnit.” Starting with a very naive decision to file a report-to-nowhere with the Cambodian police. Followed by a brainstorming session with my friends, who had also sadly lost their lap-top (and worse, their passports). This led to some creative but far-fetched ideas. Top contenders included searching local second-hand computer shops and posting $200 reward signs. Eventually though, we accepted defeat, appreciated the humor of it all, and the drama subsided.
Replacing the drama, however, was: lingering disappointment, frustration, and general negativity. These hit me in waves. Sometimes, other hardships that came with living in Cambodia triggered my negativity. Namely, the burning trash or noisy 3-day weddings on my street. Other times, I would search for a photo and sadly realize that it was stored away in the time capsule, never to be seen again.
Two months later, I noticed I was still thinking about the missing laptop. So I finally paused to observe what was happening. It’s funny how our minds and emotions run on patterns. Yet it’s hard to recognize our own until their re-play becomes a pattern. With a bit of introspection and awareness, things that meditation had helped me with, I could clearly see what was happening.
negative memory + present negativity = everything is terrible always
I was letting this incident and its baggage of associated negative emotions intercept my thoughts in an unnecessary and intrusive loop. This made everything else around me seem much worse than it was. Why couldn’t I just get over it and move on? To allow this negative memory to affect my life indefinitely, I realized, was as frustrating and disappointing as the experience itself. Realizing this motivated me to create a tool for managing my compounding negativity.
don’t keep negative memories “open”
The laptop story is only that; a means of illustrating a reality that we all face. None of us has the luxury of avoiding negative experiences that disrupt our lives. Especially not now during the time of COVID-19.
It can be especially hard to move on, though, when we’ve collected a brain-closet full of negativity skeletons that continue to haunt us. We can manage this if we don’t leave these negative memories what I would call “open.”
By “open,” I don’t mean unresolved in the sense that I could have done more to try and solve the problem. i.e. retrieve the lost laptop. I’m not suggesting that we pursue every possible solution to turn things around before we let them go. That’s for you to decide when life presents you with one of its many challenges.
Here I mean that the thought remains uncategorized and undisciplined, able to roam freely around in your mind and wreak havoc as it wishes.
exercise mental “vaulting”
“Vaulting” is a simple yet powerful mental exercise for “closing” a negative thought or memory. The process begins by identifying any negative incident and the effect it continuously has on your thoughts, behavior, or emotions.
Once you pinpoint it, imagine grabbing that pestering thought with your mind. Visualize clasping an imaginary hand over its imaginary ear, and pulling it away like a mother might do to a misbehaving child.
You might lead the negative memory or thought to another imaginary place. I like to visualize a serious looking industrial vault or a classy-looking antique lock of some kind. Throw it in there, and get rid of the key.
What I just described may sound a lot like “move on” and “get over it.” It’s definitely related. But the challenge lies in how we can effectively do this. My point is that it takes awareness and action. The action can be mental, symbolic, or both. And it can be used consistently, whenever needed, as a tool for managing negativity.
There is a crucial distinction to make here. Often we tell ourselves that we should get over it, or that we want to, or even that we did. We sweep these incidents under the rug, hoping for them never to return. Instead of doing that, because they will return, often unceremoniously with a gang of other negative thoughts, actually take a moment to actively deal with the source of the negativity that you can then refer back to.
When you have done the work, the act of “vaulting,” you have ceremoniously stripped the thought of its power. For instance, when the thought re-surfaces, you can say: “oh yeah, I know that thought, the one about the laptop, I’ve already taken care of that. I’ve officially archived that memory in the mental vault.” It will be much less likely for it to affect your mood or take you out to another raging pity party.
practice regularly to avoid depression & anxiety
This exercise can be used to avoid dwelling on the difficult or painful stuff in our lives. Practicing it regularly can also become preventive. Dealing with negative thoughts in the moment helps prevent them from accumulating over time into long-term anxiety and depression.
When we think about overcoming negativity abstractly or all at once, we can easily become confused and overwhelmed. Much like we would tend to our actual homes, clean as you go. Rather than waiting until the floor becomes covered in 2 inches of dust or swallowed by an ocean of dirty clothes, consider spending some time each day or week to clean up your mental house. Use this tool for managing negativity rather than trying to stop it in its tracks, before it all becomes too much to handle.
Just some tips from my personal vault.
xx Nomadic Priestess
How do you manage negativity? Share your tips in the comments!