THE MIND: The anxious mind

THE MIND: The anxious mind.   IMG_0630

As I said in the previous post, the mind is like a factory of thoughts.  It just releases thought after thought after thought.  Some of these thoughts are just benign like what you are going to have for dinner or how the weather sucks.  However, the habits of the mind that create suffering are torturous at times and can lead people to feel debilitated by their fears and anxiety.

The mind can torture us with awful thoughts of a dangerous future that, almost always, does not materialize. “What if I am rejected?” “What if I fail?” “What if I end up alone?” “What if, what if, what if….?”

Mark Twain once said: “I went through a lot of awful things in my life and the majority didn’t happen.” This is the anxious mind. The part of our mind that anticipates pain, rejection, loss, failure, judgment, and it tortures us with the fear that if these things happen, we will be destroyed.

Mindfulness invites us to witness our thoughts and learn that they are just “puffy” things that are there one minute and gone the next. It is only our mind that feeds them and makes them appear as truths, as solid entities that generate anxiety and panic.

Mindfulness allows us to cultivate the ability to observe our thoughts and to disentangle from them. Tell yourself: Thoughts are just thoughts. Observe them as “puffy” things that just pass like clouds in the sky.

Practice observing the mind with curiosity and with interest. Become an ongoing witness to the habits of your mind. This is the first step to gaining mastery over it.

So each time you have a fearful “what if” kind of thought, just say: “oh there is that thought” and bring your attention back to the present moment by taking 3 deep breaths, and taking in all the information available through your senses: what are you seeing? what are you hearing? What are you touching? what are you smelling?

There is much less suffering in the present moment. Even if there is pain in the present moment, when you don’t let the mind engage in creating stories about the pain, you can be with the essence of the pain each moment by just noticing your breath and the presence of whatever you are aware of.

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THE MIND: Reflections on the mind and suffering

THE MIND: Reflections on the mind and suffering image

I will be writing a series of posts in the next few weeks about the workings of the mind and its impact on our wellbeing.

In the traditions that teach us mindfulness, the mind is like a factory of thoughts. It just releases thought after thought after thoughts. Many of these thoughts are benign but others are hurtful and torturous.

There is something very illogical about how our own minds torture us. Should our mind be our best friend? Our best advocate? It should but in practice it seems to be our worst enemy.

The mind can be filled with thoughts of self-doubt, of self-loathing, of self-hatred even. It can spend a lot of time anticipating pain, rejection, failure, judgement. It can scare us to death with thoughts of horrible things that could happen (and most times don’t). It can dwell on the past and make us feel depressed and worthless.

There is also a part of the mind that is unknown to us: the contents of the unconscious. As we have travelled throughout our lives we have buried some memories and conclusions we have drawn about ourselves and the world in the unconscious.

Most of what informs how each of us interacts with our world and with others is found in our mind in the form of perceptions, interpretations, core beliefs, conclusions we have drawn, and so on.  The problem is that we identify with these thoughts and beliefs.  We have convinced ourselves that they are true and that they are the only way to view things.

Culltivating Mindfulness is a wonderful way to get to know our minds and to learn to gain mastery over our minds. Not to control our minds but to gain mastery. In other words, to feel at the wheel rather than at the mercy of our torturous thoughts.  To learn to have more flexibility in the way we see things and how we interpret ourselves and the world.

Begin by sitting down in a wakeful, upright position and bring awareness to your breath. Then just follow the breath; the in-breath and the out-breath. And watch what happens with the mind. Each time you are no longer on the breath because the mind has wandered into thoughts, just note where your mind went, what was it thinking about, and then come back to the breath. Set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes.

This gives you an opportunity to begin to observe the habits of your mind.