This is the Now

“If you are depressed you are living in the past.  If you are anxious you are living in the future.  If you are at peace you are living in the present.”  ― Lao Tzu

We spend so much of our lives living inside our own heads, it’s a wonder we ever have the time to see what is going around us. We have a constant narrative of thought going on. It is like the background noise of a radio or TV; often not noticed, but always there.

Do you realise that we humans, it seems, have anywhere from 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day. But according to some research, as many as 98 percent of them are exactly the same as we had the day before. Talk about creatures of habit! Even more significantly, over 80 percent of our thoughts are negative. That means that every day we are self-criticizing ourselves with over 56,000 thoughts. With that level of negative bias, it’s no wonder so many people suffer from anxiety and even depression.

Why is so much of our self-talk, negative?

If you think back to our pre-history as hunter-gatherers, we spent most of our time hunting or being hunted. Our flight or fight responses were tuned into everything going on around us.

“Is that a tiger I see before me, or just a leafy shadow in the bushes ahead?”

The default thought patterns were centred on how to keep us alive. In effect, making us be cautious about every situation we came across. We used our memories to record and reflect on previous encounters and to use those to help us keep out of danger.

“Yes, it is a tiger and I believe it was a tiger I saw yesterday. Therefore, keep out of the way”

This would be the instinctive reaction, eve if 9 times out of 10, it was just a shadow and not a tiger.

Leap forward and that base level instinct and mode of thought has not changed one jot. However, it is not the tiger in the shadows that makes us worry; rather it is life going on around us.

What appears to happen, is that we have continued to develop a narrative mode of thought. This is where we think about the future, based on circumstances; events; and key obstacles of the past. We constantly think about what may happen in the future, often thinking about future obstacles and how to overcome them based on prior experiences. This is not necessarily negative. In fact, it can be very helpful as we navigate this complex world around us. However, when we do overcome them, or go around them, or avoid them, we still have other obstacles that pop up. It is akin to a life long hurdle race.  

If we are in a negative mode of thought, we think about how difficult those obstacles are and how impossible it is to overcome them. We go round and round, and as mentioned at the start, we churn over our thoughts; day by day; returning to previous negative thoughts. By doing this, we artificially amplify them; making them bigger and more impossible to solve.

So how do you stop the negative thought spiral?

Stop. Just stop. Stop and pay attention to the now. Now, I know you are going to say, how on earth do you do that?

A simple exercise you can try is as – just for a moment, listen to your breath. Or notice what you are looking at. Or the smells in the air.

For example; If you have a shower; when you are standing under the water, close your eyes and feel the water on your skin. Open your eyes and when you open the bottle of shower wash, smell the aroma and scent. Mine is eucalyptus and grapefruit of all things. If you are cleaning your teeth, concentrate on the brushing motion against your teeth and gums.

And when those negative thoughts start to come around again as they will; the first step is to recognise the thoughts as negative. The second is to acknowledge that, like all thoughts, these will come and go. Moment by moment.

I was sitting on the bed this morning and a whole suite of negative thoughts starting going around in my head. It made me feel uncomfortable. I could feel my heart rate begin to increase. However, what made the difference was I realised that these were negative thoughts. Just thoughts. They did not reflect the reality of the moment, sitting on the bed. Thoughts of the past, that you can not change. Thoughts of the future, yet to come.

In effect, I was present in the now.

The TEDx youTube video that inspired this blog post, by Daron Larson, can be found here. It is well worth the 12 minutes to watch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ze6t34_p-84
I leave you with the following quote.

“We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past. But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, and you are here NOW with the power to shape your day and your future.” –  Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

Mindfulness at work – how to practice?

 

“If, then, I were asked for the most important advice I could give, that which I considered to be the most useful to the men of our century, I should simply say: in the name of God, stop a moment, cease your work, look around you.” ― Leo Tolstoy, Essays, Letters and Miscellanies

Earlier this week, I took part in an event for World Mental Health day, where we hosted over 385 people on two webinars to talk about Mindfulness. It was great to talk about what mindfulness is all about, but the biggest part of the discussion and questions from people was how you can practice mindfulness at work.

How do you practice Mindfulness at work? Does your work environment encourage you to practice? I was given the opportunity to describe how I practice.

Think about being present and not just on auto-pilot

  • Make a clear decision at the start of your workday to be present as best you can. Pause for a few moments before you start your work day to set this intention in your mind.
  • Focus your attention on the people and the discussions you have. Don’t just nod and agree. Really try to listen.
  • Don’t skim read emails, articles, and documents. I read from the bottom of emails back to the top to make sure I focus on the content.
  • In meetings, don’t do your emails at the same time.

Use Short Mindful Exercises at Work. I use the Three-minute Breathing Space meditation during the day, normally at lunchtime. 

Use short breathing exercises before or after meetings; telephone conversations or when you feel stressful

  • The exercise we shared this week was the 4,7,8 exercise. You place the tip of your tongue against the back of your top teeth. Breath in at your normal pace for the count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7. Then exhale for a count of 8. Repeat this at least three times and you will feel less stressful and more relaxed.

Use Mindful Reminders

  • Use some form of reminder to be mindful to take you out of auto-pilot mode. I use a reminder in my Outlook diary and set an appointment every day.Mine is set for 12:30 every day. It just gives me a little nudge, “have you been mindful so far today?”. Perhaps place a picture on your desk to remind you to be mindful. I have a mindful workplace mat that I glance at during the day.

Be a Single-Tasker

  • Single-tasking is doing one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is trying to do two or more tasks at the same time or switching back and forth between tasks. Nobody can actually multi-task. In reality, your brain is madly switching from one thing to the next, often losing data in the process.
  • Group tasks in categories. For example, put together emails, phone calls, errands, and meetings. Then you can do them all together in one block of time rather than switching from emails to calls to running an errand.
  • Switch off as many distractions as you can. Silence your phone, log off from your email account, and so on. Then set a timer for the amount of time you need to work, and record how much you get done. Do what works for you to focus on one task for a fixed period of time.

Pay Attention to the Small Stuff

  • When you are working, focus on the immediate task and the single element in front of you. Don’t worry about all the other tasks around you. Being present on.

“Pause, Reflect, Act” rather than “Fire and forget” on emails

  • We live such a reactive hectic work live that we have a tendency to “fire and forget”. When that email comes in from a colleague asking for help; raising an issue; complaining; or whatever, we have this insane habit of reacting immediately to the email. Get it done and out of the way. I see it all the time. People do not take the time to either read the email or to fully understand the context. You can end up in an email war of words. Instead, “Pause, Reflect and then Act” before responding. Take time. Even 24 hours before responding. I will even pen a response but hold it in my “draft items” for up to 24 hours before responding. It tends to take the heat out and you can more calmly review what you are writing.

Feel and Share Gratitude

  • Humans have a “negativity bias.” Essentially, this means that you’re much more likely to focus and dwell on something that’s gone wrong than on things that have gone well. Behaving in this way every day means that you ultimately adopt an excessively negative and unbalanced way of thinking.
  • Gratitude is the antidote. Plenty of evidence suggests that actively practicing gratitude makes you feel better and has a positive impact on your creativity, health, working relationships, and quality of work. Express gratitude to those around you, even if they do not respond. It is amazing how much a simple thank you and smile impacts others.

Cultivate Humility

  • Value other people’s opinions: If someone makes a point that challenges yours, suspend judgment. You can easily jump in and argue—but that implies that they’re wrong and you’re right. How can you be so sure? Stop and consider in what ways they may be right, too. This is true mindfulness in action—non-judgemental awareness together with curiosity and respect.
  • Show appreciation: When someone helps you out, in whatever way, show appreciation. Say thank you and really mean it.
  • Consider who has helped you right now: Spend a few minutes thinking about the number of people who have helped you at work today.
  • Humble people have a quiet confidence about themselves and don’t feel the need to continuously remind others of their achievements. Humility is attractive—no one enjoys being around those who continually sing their own praises, and most people enjoy the company of those who are willing to listen to them rather than talk about themselves all the time.

Finally, Make a Habit of It

  • For mindfulness to work at work, it helps to have both a formal practice of mindfulness – such as the 3-minute breathing space meditation as well as informal practices that you can do during the day. What is more important, though it to practice some of the elements I have mentioned every day. A little and often is far better than one practice, one day every month.

 

I would love to hear from you on how you practice Mindfulness at work. Do share your thoughts, practices, tips and advice.

I leave you with the following quote:

“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” ― Studs Terkel

An introduction to Walking Meditation

 

“Don’t walk in front of me… I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me… I may not lead. Walk beside me… just be my friend”  ― Albert Camus

What do you think about when you go for a walk?

What an odd question to ask. But, hang on a moment. What do you really think about when you go for a walk? If you are like me, you decide to go for a walk for the exercise; to walk the dogs (we have two); to be with friends or family on a day out, or perhaps to visit and see something new. You don’t go on a walk to think? Or do you?

I also use walking as a time to reflect on the life events going on around me. Work; the social activities; or even family and friends. But more than that, I also use it as an opportunity to be present.

What is the third approach (after exercise and reflective thinking)?

The walking meditation is one of the key elements of the MBSR – Mindfulness Stress Reduction Programme. Central to it is being present; being aware of the act of walking. You normally don’t think about where you are walking; where you are placing your feet; how you are placing your feet; how it feels to be walking and the affect on your body. This is the basis for the exercise.

So how do you do a Walking Meditation?

  • Find a location. Find a place that allows you to walk back and forth for 10 to 15 paces. A place that is peaceful, where you won’t be disturbed or even observed. A slow, formal walking meditation can look strange to people who are unfamiliar with it!. You can practice walking meditation either indoors or outside. I prefer to be outside, but the choice is entirely yours.
  • Plan your walk. Start walking the steps along the place you’ve chosen, and then pause and breathe for as long as you like. When you’re ready, turn and walk back in the opposite direction, where you can pause and breathe again. Then, when you’re ready, Turn once more and continue with the walk. What is critical is to focus on the component elements of each step you take.
  • The component elements of each step. Walking meditation involves very deliberating thinking about and doing a series of actions that you normally do automatically. Breaking the steps down in your mind may feel awkward, even ridiculous. But you should try to notice at least these four basic components of each step. These are:

    a) the lifting of one foot;
    b) the moving of the foot a bit forward of where you’re standing;
    c) the placing of the foot on the floor, heal first;
    d) the shifting of the weight of the body onto the forward leg as the back heel lifts, while the toes of that foot remain touching the floor or the ground. Then the cycle continues, as you:

   a) lift your back foot totally off the ground;
   b) observe the back foot as it swings forward and lowers;
   c) observe the back foot as it makes contact with the ground, heel first;
  d) feel the weight shift onto that foot as the body moves forward.

  You are focusing on the physical act of walking. Something we have not thought of          since we learned to walk all those years ago.

  • What do you do with your hands and arms? Whatever feels most comfortable and natural to you. It is not an exercise in holding your arms or hands in an unnatural position.
  • Walking speed? You can walk at any speed, but the idea behind a walking meditation is that it is slow and involves taking measured small steps. That is why most people perform the exercise somewhere quiet, as seeing people walking slowly makes people uncomfortable. The most important thing for you is that it feels natural, not exaggerated or stiff.
  • You will find you focus on something. As you walk, try to focus your attention on one or more sensations that you would normally take for granted. Perhaps the weight of your arms. I noticed when I did the exercise that my arms were different weights. Why? I was wearing a heavy man’s watch on my right wrist. I had never noticed this before. Perhaps your breath as you walk; the way your arms move; the sounds around you or looking more closely at sights around you, I noticed individual pebbles  when I did the practice on a path. The glitter and sparkle of each stone.
  • Finally, that damn wandering mind! No matter how much you try to fix your attention on any of these sensations, your mind will wander. Guaranteed.  When you notice your mind wandering, don’t give up of get angry, but simply try again to focus it one of those sensations. You will find that will a little practice, you will be able to be more present when you walk and notice more.

I went for a brief walk today with some colleagues and as I walked along I noticed that there a nail on the path. I picked it up and threw it in a bin. Was I more observant than everyone else? Or was it due to the walking practices?

I leave you with the following quote, from one of my favorite books and films of all times.

 

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where -‘ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

‘- so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.

‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

An introduction to Sitting Meditation

 

“There are times when we stop, we sit still. We listen and breezes from a whole other world begin to whisper.” ― James Carroll

We all like simple, don’t we?

One of simplest and at the same time; most effective mindfulness practices is the Sitting Meditation. If you followed the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, the practice is introduced in week four.  

So what is Sitting Meditation?

The Mindfulness approach to the sitting meditation is not sitting in the traditional lotus position, fingers and thumbs circled, gently going “ho oom Mmmmm” for hours at a time. Rather, it is a gentle, easy approach to sitting and focusing on something simple, like the breadth. The practice can take a few minutes or even up to an hour. It all depends on you.

What do you do before you start? If you have questions then the notes below will help. There are four key elements you need to consider:

  1.  A Place that is quiet and calm is key.

Find a good spot where you live, ideally where there isn’t too much clutter or distractions. It needs to be somewhere where you can find some peace and quiet. Not in front of the TV, or in the middle of the kitchen. Perhaps a spare room. I use our spare room as it is quiet and few people go into it.

  1. Next, is Posture and hands.

With Mindfulness, there is no right way or wrong way to practice. It is what is comfortable for you. Some people choose to sit on the floor. Some choose a chair. Me? I happen to sit on the edge of the spare room bed. Whatever, posture you feel comfortable in. If you suffer from back pain, what position is the easiest for you? You might want to sit on lots of cushions or very few. What you do need is a stable, solid seat, not perching or hanging over an edge.

Notice what your legs are doing. If sitting on cushions on the floor, cross your legs comfortably in front of you. If on a chair, it’s good if the bottoms of your feet are touching the floor and your legs a slightly apart. That is the posture I use. I like to sit without shoes on so I can feel the soles of my feet in contact with the carpet.

You need to make sure that you are sitting relatively straight, and do not stiffen your upper body. We all have a slight natural curvature of the spine. Let it be there. Your head and shoulders can comfortably rest on top of your vertebrae.

People ask, what do you do with your hands? I gently rest my hands on my legs. Not grasping the fingers together, but letting them rest – open and loose.

You can close your eyes or drop your gaze. If you choose to drop your gaze, drop your chin a little and let your gaze fall gently downward. You may let your eyelids almost close. You can simply let what appears before your eyes be there without focusing on it. It helps in my case as I wear glasses all the time. So I take them off and it helps.

  1. Next, is Time. Build the practice into your day.

At the outset, it helps to set an amount of time you’re going to “practice” for. Otherwise, you may never create the time to fit the practice in. If you’re just beginning, it can help to choose a short time, such as five or ten minutes. Eventually,  you can build up to twice as long, then maybe up to 45 minutes or an hour. I use a timer on my phone. Many people do a session in the morning and in the evening, or one or the other. I tend to practice early in the morning as this is the time I have build into my daily schedule to practice.  If you feel your life is busy and you have little time, doing some is better than doing none. When you get a little space and time, you can do a bit more.

        4. Finally, Attitude, Commitment, and Kindness.

Like anything in life, mindfulness meditation takes commitment and practice. It is well known that little and often is better than intermittent. So be prepared to practice at least four days a week or more. I tend to practice formal mindfulness sessions five days per week and walking meditations at the weekend.  When you begin the practice you will notice that you can “concentrate” on your breathing for a few moments and then all of a sudden a string of thoughts will flash across your mind. Your instinctive reaction is to berate yourself for not being able to “do the practice”. This is where the kindness to yourself comes to the fore. No matter how many years you have practiced and no matter the intensity, you can not ultimately control all the thoughts you have. It is like trying to hold water in your hand. No matter how hard you try, you will not succeed. Instead, don’t bother judging yourself or obsessing over the fact you are having the thoughts or the contents of the thoughts. Come back to the focus that the sitting meditation is centered on. Your body and your breath. You will go away. You come back. Time after time. Like the waves on the edge of the sea.

I hope these simple elements help make your practice a success. If you have experiences and comments on the sitting practice, do let me know.

The photo is one I took this morning, imagining myself sitting under the tree doing a sitting practice.

I leave you with the following quote:

“I’m simply saying that there is a way to be sane. I’m saying that you can get rid of all this insanity created by the past in you. Just by being a simple witness of your thought processes.

It is simply sitting silently, witnessing the thoughts, passing before you. Just witnessing, not interfering not even judging, because the moment you judge you have lost the pure witness. The moment you say “this is good, this is bad,” you have already jumped onto the thought process.

It takes a little time to create a gap between the witness and the mind. Once the gap is there, you are in for a great surprise, that you are not the mind, that you are the witness, a watcher.

And this process of watching is the very alchemy of real religion. Because as you become more and more deeply rooted in witnessing, thoughts start disappearing. You are, but the mind is utterly empty.

That’s the moment of enlightenment. That is the moment that you become for the first time an unconditioned, sane, really free human being.”

Osho

Sounds and Thoughts

“This isn’t life in the fast lane, it’s life in the oncoming traffic.” ― Terry Pratchett

You do it. I do it. We all do it. In fact, we all do it all the time without even realising it. Deleting sounds.

Sound is one of key senses we have but we have developed the ability to ignore sounds; letting sounds dissolve into the background of our daily lives. If you don’t believe me, then you might want to reflect on the following scenario:

At this time of the year, during the summer holiday’s, it is quite likely that you are going to be going away to a different place to stay. Be it a hotel; camping; by the sea; in a city centre break; with friends or with family. At the end of the first day that you are away, you are going to  retire to the bedroom and after getting ready for bed, you are going to lie down and try to go to sleep.

That is when you are going to notice sounds. The sounds around you. In the room – perhaps the clicking of a clock. Locally – as other people move around or the sounds of the TV on in the next room. Outside, where it might be traffic moving or the sounds of people enjoying the evening.

You are certainly going to notice the different sounds. What will follow is your mind will start to race with thoughts as you wonder “what is that sound?”, “Who is doing what?”, “why are they making that racket?”, “can I stop that ticking?”.

Eventually, you might drop off to sleep. You will get up the following morning and start a new day. That evening, you might notice the same sounds, some new ones or you might not. After the third day, generally, you will not notice the sounds in the evening. They will have dissolved into the background and it will only be the exceptions that you might still “hear”.

We constantly allow sounds to dissolve into the background. There is a term that is used for it, Habituation. Habituation is a decrease in response to a stimulus after repeated presentations. For example, a novel sound in your environment, such as a new ring tone, may initially draw your attention or even become distracting. After you become accustomed to this sound, you pay less attention to the noise and your response to the sound will diminish. This diminished response is habituation.

So how do you deal with the challenge of sounds impinging on your world and the thoughts that stream into your consciousness?

Sounds are as compelling as thoughts and just as open to interpretation. For this reason, the Sounds and Thoughts Meditation is one of my personal favourite as it reveals how the mind conjures up thoughts that can so easily lead us astray.

Why meditate on Sounds and Thoughts?

We are immersed in a soundscape of enormous depth and variety. Just take a moment to listen. What can you hear? This is where the opposite of the example above comes to the fore. At first, you might sense a general pulsating, an all-encompassing hubbub of noise. You might be able to pick out individual sounds. You might recognise a voice; a TV blaring away; a door slamming, cars driving past; an aircraft overhead; tinkling music; the sounds of birds. The list is endless. Even when you’re in a quiet room, you can still pick up muffled sounds. It might be your breath as it moves through your nostrils, or the creaking of the floor or a heating system. Even silence contains sounds.

Just like your thoughts, the sounds around you are never silent. Even more importantly, the sounds around you influence the thoughts and feelings you have.

The Sounds and Thoughts meditation gradually reveals the similarities between sound and thought. Both appear as if from nowhere. Both can seem random and we have no control over their arising. Both trigger powerful emotions that can easily run away with us.

The Sounds and Thoughts meditation helps you to discover this. It also helps you to relate to unsettling thoughts in the same way that you relate to sounds. Your thoughts can be likened to a radio that’s been left on in the background. You can listen – or rather observe – but you need not elaborate on what you receive or act on what you feel. You don’t usually feel the need to think or behave in a way that a voice on a radio tells you to, so why should you blindly assume that your thoughts portray an unerringly accurate picture of the world? Your thoughts are thoughts. That is all. They are your servants. No matter how loud they shout, they are not your master, giving orders that have to be obeyed. This realisation gives you immense freedom; it takes you off a hair trigger and gives you the space to take more skilful decisions – decisions that can be made with your mind when it’s in full awareness.

I leave you with the following quote:

“How in the hell could a man enjoy being awakened at 8:30 a.m. by an alarm clock, leap out of bed, dress, force-feed, shit, piss, brush teeth and hair, and fight traffic to get to a place where essentially you made lots of money for somebody else and were asked to be grateful for the opportunity to do so? ” ― Charles Bukowski, Factotum

The man who wasn’t there

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”  Oscar Wilde

I don’t know about you, but some days I feel fully present. On other days, I feel as if I have somehow dissolved into the background.  

I can recognise the symptoms and also the feelings that come with it. When I am fully present, I feel in the moment; grounded; focused and alert to events and people around me. In effect alive.

When I feel dissolved, I feel disconnected from life around me; alone; weak and vulnerable. Existing from moment to moment. Reacting to the events around me. Feeling as if I am being battered by the winds and emotions of the people, events and life around me.

I am not sure what might trigger it, though I know of a couple of scenarios that can bring on the feeling. One is where I start to ruminate about the past and the future, rather than living in the present moment. Another is where I feel that I am loosing a friend or companion. That self-generated sense of impending loss can also trigger the feeling.

With 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts per day running around your head; it is no wonder that we can all get caught up in the feelings that they generate and can get trapped in a cycle of rumination, self-think, and stress. If you sit for a while and observe people, you can almost see the patterns of thought criss-cross their face. We all have the ability to take a thought and travel a journey into an imaginational thought journey. Something similar the following:-

“If I do this, then, that will happen”.

“Having done that, then so and so will be affected.”

So and so will feel angry / sad / hurt / afraid and….”

“…. and I will feel I should never have done this in the first place”

It is hard to describe explicitly, but hopefully you get the meaning.

Sometimes I do feel as if I am “The man who wasn’t there”.

What does this mean to me? Caught. Trapped in my thoughts and their associated feelings. a cycle of rumination. Thoughts going round and round, self-triggering physical feelings of fear. Yes, a physical sensation that pervades me. And don’t forget, this is just thought that is doing it. Nothing physical, like a physical shock or the sight of an accident. Just the thoughts in my head. Creating an imaginary world.

So what can I do to stop feeling as if I am “The man who wasn’t there”?

We can not escape our thoughts or stop them completely. What we can do though is we can try to dampen them. Some use drugs. Some use alcohol. Some use the adrenaline of sport or adventure.  Some try to fill themselves with the mundane of life.

There is an alternative, though. That is to try to recognise and accept them for what they really are. Imaginary thoughts. Thoughts of fantasy. Illusion. That is what Mindfulness teaches you and that is what I use.

I try to practice every day. Moment by moment. However, I have to admit it does not always work.

Last Friday, for example, was a challenge. The announcement in the morning of the UK leaving the Euro Zone [called the Brexit referrendum] and the ramifications; the prospect of a friend not being around for a long time and a series of time bound activities at work, all came together in one moment. It caught me completely unawares. I was I caught up in it for a moment. Then, having recognised it. I Held it and breathed into it. Recognising that the thoughts were just thoughts. Nothing more. It took a couple of minutes for me to turn myself around but I did.

I am not going to claim that Mindfulness is a cure all. Rather for me, it has certainly helped me over the past two years. What do you use to help you? If you want to know more about Mindfulness, do get in touch.

I leave you with the following quote:

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”  Oscar Wilde

A world of unrecognised thoughts

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” Friedrich Nietzsche

 

I am reading a fascinating book at the moment and one small section really caught my attention. It mentions:

“Thought is the architect of both hope and despair, the source of every colour in the emotional rainbow.

Without thought, there would be no delineation in our world, like the pure clarity of light before it passes through a prism and bursts into a kaleidoscope of color.

But unrecognised thought demands our attention and fills our consciousness.

And when we get caught up in thought, we lose our way.”

We are ruled by the thoughts in our head. Generated moment by moment, every day. What triggers those thoughts can be any outside influence. Be it a picture. A place. Someone you see. A physical object. Literally, anything. However, whilst we might experience an external trigger; our minds pick up this and run like hell. We get caught up in a relay race of chasing thoughts. One following another. A personal example from me:

Question  – “What are we going to have for dinner?

Thoughts and self-talk – Why ask me what is for dinner?

I don’t know?

What is in the fridge?

I’d better check the fridge before I go and buy something? [Seems logical…]

We could have fish cakes? [Where did that come from? Not had them in a week?]

But Jen is allergic to fish? [Logical as this is a friend who is staying with us who is allergic]

Why is she allergic to fish?  [Seems sort of reasonable thought]

Burgers then. [Back to food]

I need some shoe polish. [Now where did that thought come from?]

Better clean the oven? [Now I think I am loosing the plot]

Brillo pads and vim are the best? [Deffo time to call the nut house…]

… and so the thoughts keep coming.

See. Hundreds of thoughts running into and alongside one another. Constantly. It’s a wonder we have time to do anything. As the quote above says, “when we get caught up in thought, we lose our way”.

However, there is something that can help us enormously.

Something so simple, yet so profound, people will think you are quite mad. You have to recognise that these thoughts that you have, are just that. Thoughts. Nothing more. Moment by moment you are recreating a past inside of yourself. A past that you are choosing to create. A past that you can choose to make positive and uplifting. Or a past that is full of doubt. Fear. Even horror. That is what we are capable of. Talk to any counsellor or psychologist and they will confirm, that most treatments for anxiety, fears, phobias and the like are based on changing your perceived view of the past.  

What is even more profound, is that you can then change your viewpoint of what the future might hold. If you accept the future more openly. Without judgement and the feelings of the past, the more likely you are to look at things positively.

What helps you to do this you might ask?

For me, it is Mindfulness and the meditation that goes with it. Moment to moment, being present. Open acceptance. The technique is simple, systematic and direct. Mindfulness training focuses on observing the mind in its natural state, with a non-attached, objective awareness (mindfulness) of what is actually present; moment to moment. Meditation is not a goal, but a tool for realization. Unlike our normal attitudes and perceptions in daily life; which carry an ethical content; during mindfulness we observe only the phenomena of the mind and the body.

There are “Four Foundations of Mindfulness” which serve as the primary base of an insight meditation practice. They are as follows:

  • Mindfulness of Bodily Objects (breath, movement or posture)
  • Mindfulness of Bodily Feelings (pleasant, unpleasant or neutral sensations)
  • Mindfulness of States of Consciousness (mind with or without greed, hatred or delusion)
  • Mindfulness of Mental Contents (joy, apathy, worry, calm, doubt, restlessness, happiness, sadness, etc.)

Or, simply stated, mindfulness of Body, Feelings, Mind and Mental Objects. Once you start to practice Mindfulness, you begin to realise how deep and meaningful it really is.

So the next time you get wrapped up in your thoughts, the first step is to recognise that there is a way to do things in a different manner. Stop for just a moment. Let the thoughts come and then go. Don’t chase after them. In a while the thought that triggered that relay race in your mind will fade. And you can come back to the present moment.

By the way, the book that prompted this post is “The space within, by Michael Neill”. I would really recommend it.

I leave you with the following quote:

The past is gone: the future has not come. But whoever sees the Truth clearly in the present moment, and knows that which is unshakable, lives in a still, unmoving state of mind.”

— The Buddha.    Bhaddekaratta Sutta