Our minds—our thoughts, our pointless ruminations on trivialities, the stories we tell ourselves about our lives—can be the worst type of enemy. They can keep us stuck for decades in resentment, guilt or anxiety that eats away at our health. They can drive us mad.
After a terrible health diagnosis, unguarded thoughts can lead us down one empty rabbit hole after another. It’s easy to slip into one and not have the strength to crawl back up to the surface. This can lead to more unnecessary misery. Who needs that?
Fortunately, we have an alternative. The practice of mindfulness is about training and then mastering the mind so we are freed from its vagaries. One Buddhist nun wrote long ago, “I, a nun, trained and self-composed, established mindfulness and entered peace like an arrow. The elements of body and mind grew still, happiness came.” When we guard our thoughts diligently, we have the ability to calm ourselves and experience peace.
My mindfulness training came in the form of learning, learning to stay conscious of my body and my thoughts, no matter my circumstances. This involved paying attention to what I was thinking from one moment to the next. I began watching the chatter of thoughts whizzing around in my brain. I found this easiest in the morning between the time I woke up and the time I got out of bed. Often I discovered my mind reviewing the same script over and over, like a bad newsreel. What a silly waste of time and energy, especially when I had one foot in the grave. I realized I had better things to do with my brain.
My psychotherapist taught me that the minute I recognize I’m falling into an old mental rut, I can divert my attention toward feeling my feet in my shoes or focusing on my breath. The more I practiced, the easier it became. This practice also helped me fall asleep at night, as long as my brain wasn’t churning too much and I already felt tired.
I began to identify less with my mental gyrations and more with the part of me able to witness the rehashing. According to author Ken Wilber, this is the one Witness existing within each of us; the Divine looking out through my eyes, which is the same Spirit that’s looking out through each person’s eyes. And it is my true Self, the same true Self that exists in each person.
I was learning how to be more mindful by living in the now, rather than, regurgitating the past or running mental movies about the future; it involved experiencing each moment as it arose, without labeling, judging, or creating stories around something.
I also began to more fully understand the incredible power of the mind. For example, I have heard several times that the mind can instantly alter the body’s chemistry. It has been documented that people with multiple-personality disorders can have medical conditions that only appear with one of their personalities. Conditions such as diabetes might instantly appear when one of the multiple personalities is present and disappear completely when that personality recedes. I joked that perhaps I should develop this disorder and adopt a personality that didn’t have cancer. On a more serious note, I recognized that if someone can do that, then training my mind and awareness can have great benefits in every area of life.
I am able to tame my mind for brief bursts, when I am aware enough to notice during the day. I’m not master of my mind yet; it still runs the show during the vast majority of my waking hours. Yet when I am paying enough attention, I can jump off the merry-go-round and re-enter my body so I can find some peace. And along with that peace comes a growing ability to hear my intuition, which could prove to be of more help to me than my thoughts probably could provide.
Thriver Soup Ingredient:
Try paying more attention to your moment-to-moment thoughts. Perhaps if you notice a script running through your head, write it down to get it out, to free up some space so you can be more present in your life. The more you observe your thoughts, the more power you will have over them, and the more peace you will experience in your life. If being in the present moment involves planning for the future, try to do your scheduling with full body awareness to keep grounded in the now.
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