Mindfulness shows us a better way
Last week we looked at why controlling our emotions does not work. In a nut shell, controlling our emotions is futile because they will manifest in one way or another, and usually when we least want them to. Emotions can help us to navigate through life when we learn how to remain present with them and to understand them. Mindfulness, rather than control, is far more effective in managing emotions. This week we will re-focus away from emotion to look at why controlling our thoughts also does not work.
How thoughts blind us
Thoughts, like emotions, tend to arise without conscious intention. They seem to pop into our mind and can take on a life of their own. One minute we can be happily looking at the ocean and the next minute we can be lost in a bombardment of thought. While thoughts are frequently triggered by emotional reactions, thoughts themselves are separate from our emotions. Thoughts are beliefs, attitudes, reasoning and the like. Collectively, they become stories that our mind tells us.
Often when we are triggered by an event in the world, the emotional reaction will activate a story in our mind that is an attempt to work out what is happening. Our cognitive mind is geared to reason and forms beliefs and attitudes that figure out how things work. The reasoning human mind is ingénues. It is why we can create tools, houses, cars and televisions. What other creature on this planet has adapted so well due to their ability to think through problems and work out solutions?
However, our rational mind is a double edge sword, particularly when our emotions are heightened. Our mind can scramble for explanations that are not only incorrect, but are also detrimental to our well-being. We often try to simplify things to get our heads around them. We do this by creating judgments, mis-guided opinions, and false beliefs. These thoughts may satisfy our minds and our emotional reactions, however they often do not help in our relationships and do not reflect the truth of the situation. The key is to train our minds to tune out unhelpful thoughts.
We cannot stop thoughts
An important point is that while we can re-train our minds to focus on different aspects of ourselves and our surroundings, we cannot actually stop thoughts. I have seen people increase their fear and anxiety because they believe that if they cannot stop certain thoughts then bad things will happen to them. Other people may be concerned because out-of-control distressing thoughts that haunt or plague their minds following trauma or adversity. Yet other people are simply fed up with certain ways their minds think. However, stopping thought is not actually possible, it is like not thinking of while elephants. If someone says “don’t think about white elephants”, it is pretty difficult to not think about them.
So the trick is not about stopping our thoughts but rather becoming more mindful of our thoughts. Mindfulness is about increasing awareness of what is happening in the present moment, and making a choice where to focus our attention. It does not stop thought but it does determine what types of thinking we feed and what type of thinking we starve. The art of mindfulness is to learn how not to practice certain stories or particular thought processes.
The gift of mindfulness
If we are to really hone our mind to accurately appreciate and understand anything, then perhaps the best place to start is ourselves. Through mindfulness practice we can begin to increase our awareness of thought patterns and what stories we are creating. Only when we do this can we begin to master the mind rather than allow it to take us astray. By watching our thought and simply being present with it, we empower ourselves to start to see the thought for what it is… thought! We take a step back and cease mindlessly believing our thoughts that pop into our heads. We create space in our mind to sense our truth rather than being caught in the incessant stories. If we relax enough in our mind, we can gain clarity and insight. This is the gift of mindfulness, to come out of unconscious automatic brain function that we have been programmed with as children, and increase awareness of ourselves, other people and our environment.
Join us on Friday afternoons at 1pm for an hour of mindfulness based training and psycho-therapeutic insights. “Embrace What Is” is an on-going relaxed group that will support your mindfulness practice and help you to integrate this practice into your everyday life.
Call Vanessa on 0424 507 101 to book your place in this exciting and innovative group
Bookings are essential, as places are limited