I know from personal and professional experience that we can use the mind as a terrible weapon against ourselves, or find in it a loyal ally. Because we do not control the mind, most of us allow it to control us with it tending to swing back and forth, if not exactly heaven or hell, a lot of time is spent in purgatory. We have in our life story, experiences of the mind being the ally and the sabotager.
"Ok!" you say impatiently, "I got it, now give me the tools to change, and tell me whatever I need to know to get off this mental merry go round."
First of all and you may not want to hear this, it is important to get patient with yourself, with your progress or lack of it. Often we are harsh and denigrating with ourselves, and struggle in an attempt to force the mindless chatter to cease. Needless to say when you are experiencing inner turbulence, it seems impossible to get still, breathe and relax. Quite often your inner self is agitated, fearful, struggling and if approached about your behaviors, you more than likely become defensive, as well as resistant.
Important tools to destressing your mind:
When you stop and turn your attention inward, it becomes clear that the mind is chattering ceaselessly. In Buddhist meditation such is called "monkey mind," in that it is comparable to a noisy monkey swinging from limb to limb, or in our case, from thought to thought, never taking a break.
Most of the time we have so much chatter going on, we're not even aware it's happening. Sometimes when I'm outdoors walking in beautiful natural surroundings it occurs to me I've been off in the past or planning for the future, instead of staying in the present and allowing the beauty of nature to relax me. I may find myself frowning of having tense muscles, until I catch myself and witness that I’m not really present. I can break the cycle of mind chatter with some deep breaths, which helps to become present. Aah! then I'm open and can hear the birds sing. Shortly thereafter I'm gone again, and have to repeat the process. So here I am, I write, I teach that which I need to practice and do more of in my life.
First things first. What is it like to be aware? Some of us are more externally focused and the some of us, internally focused with most of us somewhere in between. Even when you are unaware of your endless chatter, there are times when the automatic tendency is broken, and you are really present and able to know what helps you become more aware, as we all have such times and exceptions. Maybe it's just before going to sleep, or upon first awakening when you see a sunset, change the baby's diaper, wash dishes etc. There are instances when something you do fully engages you in the here and now. What ever helps you become more aware, do more of it, more often. Without judging, notice if your awareness is more available at certain events, but not others. Be gentle with yourself and direct awareness to encompass a broader spectrum of your thoughts, sensations, fantasies etc.
I have a client Milly (not her real name) who has a great deal of physical pain in her body. She has had several surgeries, back, knee, shoulder, you name it, some surgeries helped, some did not. She took lots of pain medication from different doctors who did not take time to review the whole picture. Some of these medications had serious side effects and were not compatible with others. She ended up in the hospital with seizure like activity from contraindications and put under supervision was taken off everything, in order to ascertain the cause. She went through such an ordeal, she decided to try and manage her pain another way. She engaged in counseling, relaxation techniques, hypnosis and eventually meditation.
When Milly first came to me, there was no point in asking her to breathe and relax. Asking Milly to relax was as fruitful as asking me to do brain surgery. She didn't have a clue how to do so. She was racked with pain so managing it became our first priority. Since she was too agitated to relax, she agreed to walk outdoors, do some yoga stretches that did not aggravate her body, and to do this before her sessions with me. The physical movement calmed her a little, she became trusting enough to allow me to use clinical hypnosis for pain and in time to teach her self hypnosis. With hypnotherapy she learned how to manage her pain fairly well and realized she was able to have some controls back.
The next step was to help her pay more attention to how she was thinking. As she became more aware, it became evident to her that she spent an enormous amount of time, thinking negatively. The negative thinking, in turn lead to a roller coaster ride of emotions that felt bad.
Her thoughts often ran as follows: "it's never going to get any better," or "there's no light at the end of my tunnel," etc. She also heard voices that harshly judged her. Angry vindictive, sabotaging voices that blamed her for living her life "wrong" and ending up a "cripple." She believed that she was being punished for having pushed her body, excessively as she did, when she played tennis. The voices in her head sounded suspiciously like those of her parents, particularly her father who was a harsh, critical person, and especially intimidating when she was growing up.
Tools To Help
Needless to say, Milly was unable to relax at any level, until she paid attention to the huge amount of time she was using her mind as the enemy. She had endured so much she was gradually ready to tackle her thoughts, inner voices and visions. She had a couple of weeks of intense struggle, catching herself and intentionally stopping the process. At my suggestion she put a STOP sign in her mind as a symbol of changing the flow of thoughts. She also said "STOP," out loud sometimes with a lazer sharp intensity. Milly also journaled on a regular basis between sessions, putting on paper her vision of how she wanted change and relaxation to look like.
Journaling is a wonderfully powerful tool especially at times of change. It allows us to take floating ideas, thoughts and feelings out of the vapors, and the act of putting it on paper, starts giving them concrete form. It's more powerful to journal by hand, instead of computer, as the hand is connected to the unconscious. This exercise, in and of itself starts clearing out the endless ruminations, and opening up some spaces inside, whereby you are more able to breathe. When one gradually gets to, and is able to recognize this state of mind, one is readier to create what one chooses to put in there.
Some of you may say, and rightly so, that you are not as bad off as Milly. True, but how are you thinking?
Are you conscious in the moment and focusing, or does it go something like this— I'll be glad when I go on vacation, but how am I ever going to pay for it when my cards are maxed out. I hope this vacation turns out better than the last one we went on, when we had that big fight; he has not said to this day that he was sorry for being so rude to my friend, on and on ad nausem. You are preoccupied with the future, which triggers you back to the past, again and again. So what has you by the scruff of the neck? It becomes apparent you are not controlling your thoughts and feelings, but that you are being controlled by them, as you flow back and forth between past and future. Keep Reading...
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