Empty the mind to make the mind-full!
We have just moved to a different state as I am writing this post. So much of “DOING” was involved in moving the family from one state to the other but we are all finally accepting the change and moving with it. During all the GO..GO..GO it was hard to find the balance. I should say that when you call yourself a meditation teacher, the dear friend EGO in you becomes really helpful to have you feel the pressure to be the balanced one! :-) While this picture was playing out in my mind, I was not only aware of the “picture playing” but also aware that “this picture is playing”, and that is what I want to talk about here.
Without recognizing that you have a choice, how can you make a choice? Without recognizing that your mind is having thoughts, how can you make the choice of “not having thoughts”? Although it is not in our control to stop the thoughts that seem to keep coming, it definitely is our right to “BE AWARE” of it. Aware of having a thought or two or ten at the same time. At a subtle level it might feel like we are constantly thinking and at its severity it reveals itself as anxiety.
Having or thinking a thought is important for our creativity and connection to our deeper self. However, we run into a problem once we get caught up in a thought storm- especially when it's charged with negativity. We start to make stories in our mind which seem very real. Worrying and planning about what should be happening next in our day can be very autopilot; we tend to take that as an essential part of our daily routine. While planning is wonderful , we often tend to get stuck when we place expectations in the outcomes of all the planning. Sometimes this outcome is exactly what we expected and a lot of the time it is not. That's when the thoughts in the form of negative self-talk flood the mind. We are all familiar with something like, “I must have not worked hard enough”, or “That person needed to help more”, or “I knew I wasn’t able to get to this on time”, etc. Here is where the thoughts get their fuel if you attach the emotion you are feeling in that moment and fully engage! In an instant your thoughts become very real for you. Same can happen when we have thoughts that take us into daydreaming where everything is very pleasant. So the goal here is not to discriminate between negative thoughts or positive thoughts. Goal here is to recognize that the thoughts are happening.
Although It is important to note the effect of negative thoughts on our wellbeing , I would like to save that for a separate post to keep our attention on learning about “awareness”.
As humans we have adapted to many stresses in our lives that are not necessarily related to survival and are also not life threatening. However, all those stresses have the same impact on our body and mind as if we are faced with danger like a saber tooth tiger lurking around , every single day, over and over again. So many of these stress-like feelings are generated through getting caught up in thoughts. These thoughts are sometimes the same thoughts or same type of thoughts that just come. This is an opportunity to observe and closely look at the repeating thoughts. If we are not recognizing them , it’s very easy to get carried away by them. As our thoughts start to control the mind , it is up to us to stop that pattern by recognizing that “we are not our thoughts, we are just having or thinking them”.
I love how graciously it's been said that it’s not the stress that stresses you out but it's how you respond to it. When you recognize that you are HAVING the thoughts that are not nourishing, in that recognition itself is the possibility!
When you have a recognition in the form of a thought that you have been caught up in many thoughts is NOT a thought itself. It's pure recognition! You are now aware that you are having thoughts. With this awareness the mind can get started on getting empty! Our goal is not to “stop the thoughts” or “empty” the mind. Our goal is to recognize and bring awareness to this mind that is full of thoughts, so much so that the mind gets emptied from thoughts and becomes full of awareness!
This practice of having a mind that is full of awareness is what we call “mindfulness! “ Mind that is not full of thoughts but full of awareness.
It is important to remember though that we don't have to “DO” anything extra. For example, stop or change our thoughts or even think about awareness. We don't have to do any of these. When we stop paying attention to thoughts that are already there and that are coming, we detach ourselves from our mind and come to a non-judgmental place. Here we are just observing what’s coming and going, without being identified with it or imposing any judgment on it. As we get our mind out of the way by cultivating this “witnessing awareness” , we are releasing our mind from autopilot. We are pausing the mind from jumping from one thought to another. Remember, the mind can not stop thoughts, it can only stop minding them. ;-)
Once we have paused and witnessed all that is going on in our mind in the form of thoughts, we can now become aware that thoughts come and go. There is no need to hold on to them. This detachment of our Self from our thoughts provides the opportunity to make the choice. Choice of going back to what we were thinking or being able to see/recognize another choice that we didn't see before. While we all can agree that a clear mind can perform better, it's hard for so many of us to accept that the practice of emptying the mind is easy. It does take willingness to be present and accept without any judgment.
I invite you to try practicing this way of “mindfulness”, a Non-judgmental practice of Awareness.
“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s how you carry it.” Lou Holtz
I have learned that “recognizing” (without judging) how I am carrying my load is the first step in changing the way I am carrying it.