A Friendly Reminder: The human mind, when left unchecked, can play tricks on us.
I’m talking about chaotic and unorganised racing thoughts running through your mind a mile a minute. These unhelpful thoughts keeping you stuck in a mental haze, going through days with blurry vision. These negative thinking patterns effectively annihilating any attempt to ease the underlying pain and anxiety, preventing you from focusing on the important tasks and priorities. In this post, you’ll learn how to regain control and take charge of your mind. You might be wondering:
What to do when all of my efforts are fruitless?
Is finding balance even possible in the middle of that noise?
One word, 11 letters: mindfulness.
Your mind, body and emotions are interconnected, constantly influencing one another.
Tweaks in one cause changes in another:
- Not getting a good night’s sleep will unavoidably make you more prone to negative emotional states.
- Respectively, experiencing painful feelings drains the energy out of your body, making you drowsy and tired.
- And finally, having your thoughts on auto-pilot running rampant in your mind is detrimental to physical health, simultaneously exacerbating emotional wellbeing.
Mindfulness, as a mind-body practice, uses this interconnectedness to boost our emotional and cognitive functioning. It fundamentally boils down to maintaining our attention in the present moment.
We can train this ability by focusing on one thought at a time – something basic yet profound like a mantra or simply our breathing. Different forms of meditation, when practised consistently, have a grounding effect, recentring us in the here and now.
Mindfulness can expand your field of self-awareness, strengthen your perseverance, resilience and mental flexibility. That, in turn, allows you to take charge of your mind, even in the face of adversity.
Mindfulness, however, is also about embracing ourselves in the wholeness of the present moment. And that’s where this beautiful practice can get truly challenging.
Take charge of your mind & train it like… a dog
Pema Chodron, an exceptional Buddhist teacher and the author of “How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Minds“, uses an interesting metaphor to explain the intricacies of mindful meditation. She draws an analogy between learning to take charge of your mind and the process of training a dog. And, as with everything in life, you always have a choice: be hard on yourself OR be filled with self-compassion.
Beware of the rookie mistake!
When we start practising meditation, we can often fall into the trap of our limiting beliefs. We tend to think: “I have to clear my mind entirely and relax; this is the only way to meditate”. We get stuck in this one rigid idea of the practice, whether it be sitting cross-legged or dropping into an idyllic state of consciousness. We become judgmental, overly critical and aggressive towards the self, which is precisely one of the most common mistakes we can make when learning how to meditate.
Well, I have a confession to make: I was, for a really long time, guilty of that!
I was very goal-oriented, consumed by the idea of achieving mental and emotional serenity. Whenever my thoughts would wander into the meanders of my mind, I’d get annoyed at myself, thinking I’m not good enough and simply pathetic.
“How could I amount to anything in life if I am unable to just sit in silence for 10 minutes?“.
A bit dramatic, isn’t it?
Harsh treatment in training does not work in the long term. Even if you decide to kick or yell at a puppy and it becomes obedient, make no mistake! The poor dog will also be neurotic, filled with fear, confusion and inability to adapt to any changes. The same happens to us when we engage in abusive self-talk.
A while ago, I read a comment online saying: “If being hard on yourself worked, it would have worked by now“. Whenever I happened to judge myself during meditation, it would not bring me an inch closer to this desired state of mental clarity. The only thing I was practising then was my capacity to be even harder on myself. That violent self-talk spilt into other categories of life, lowering my confidence and self-esteem, making me feel miserable.
“There’s almost no one whom we treat as badly as ourselves.”– Kristin Neff
Try to be vulnerable instead.
Imagine what happens if you choose to channel an endless sea of compassion and unconditional friendliness into training your dog? I can already see an excited puppy quickly adapting to changes, playfully wagging its tail and happily abiding by the commands.
What if, correspondingly, you chose to be gentle with yourself?
Choosing to motivate yourself with kindness and empathy only breeds further gentleness and compassion. It also boosts our perseverance, loyalty and ability to stay with any uncomfortable emotions that may arise.
Most of all, this ability to stay is how we can become a true friend in the relationship with the self. Rather than avoiding, denying, suppressing or running away from your darkness, your shadows, your limiting beliefs and insecurities, you can learn to take charge of your mind by learning to stay with these thoughts, recognising them for what they are and embracing them without trying to force any immediate change.
Understanding our pain is an amazing gift that has a lot to offer. Looking into its roots, we can shed some light on what our desires and wishes are in life.
“Pain and purpose are two sides of the same thing.
A person struggling with depression is very likely a person yearning to feel fully. A socially anxious person is very likely a person yearning to connect with others.
You hurt where you care, and you care where you hurt.”― Steven C. Hayes
Through exercising empathy towards the self, we learn to understand that “meditation is a patient process of knowing that gradually over time, these habits are dissolving. We don’t actually get rid of anything“.
We welcome the present moment just as it is with open arms, minds and hearts.
Take Charge of Your Mind with the Practice of Maitri
In Buddhism, the practice of meditation rests upon the fundamental idea called Maitri, which means ‘loving-kindness’ or ‘friendliness’. It says that having compassion towards other people is achieved by befriending ourselves first.
Pema Chodron, who dedicated her life to teaching this concept, says that in modern society, Maitri is often misjudged as a form of self-indulgence. The common misunderstanding focuses on the notion that being “soft” towards yourself will not teach you anything. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.
It is by being soft, by developing steadfastness (the willingness to stay with the discomfort), that we are able to experience the wholeness of our being. Once you commit to nurturing and deepening the relationship with the self in a loving manner, you get to witness your full self. That means your wisest, most loving self as well as your darkest self filled with shadows.
Maitri is the practice of befriending yourself in the truest sense. It requires a significant amount of patience, courage and vulnerability in order to face your fears, insecurities and uncomfortable thoughts while remaining filled with kindness and empathy towards the self.
What are the benefits of Maitri?
Maitri, at its heart, is the decision to embrace yourself as a whole and recognise the shared human nature in the experience of pain.
“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals.
Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others.
Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”– Pema Chodron
It allows us to develop equanimity. We start to spread our compassion to the outside world and begin recognising our own hardships in the struggle of another human being. We can embrace not only the wholeness of us as individuals but also the wholeness of the world. There’s no need to categorise or label ourselves as good or bad. We stop judging the world as for and against us. Our internal chatter calms down, remains balanced and stable.
Thanks to the practice of Maitri, you can persevere through difficulties, be loyal to yourself and grounded in the present moment. Not to mention that it all immensely strengthens your ability to take charge of your mind.
As you deepen your self-awareness, you also start to notice the unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaving. You can see how your limiting beliefs stop you from reaching your full potential and deny exceptional opportunities in your life. When left on auto-pilot, these thoughts can quickly make you feel powerless, out of control and filled with the conviction that escaping such a situation or changing it is impossible.
Because of Maitri, however, you start to understand that through the patient and humble practice of loving-kindness, you can unearth these detrimental habits and plant new ones. Mindfulness shows us how we exist outside of our thoughts and how we can alter them. It is through this groundbreaking realisation that you can take charge of your mind and unleash your full potential.
There are many challenging moments throughout our existence when you feel like the world is crumbling around you, like there’s nothing you can do about it.
My final message to you is: getting a hold of your thought life is possible and within your reach.
You can break out of the victim mentality and step into the active role of creating your reality, your beliefs and your perception of the world in a sustainable way that serves you.
Access the content of your thoughts through the mind-body practice of Maitri.
Understand that you are 100% capable of achieving your goals and dreams.
And remember… That can ONLY happen if you’re willing to work hard for it, with kindness and compassion towards yourself, embracing the beautiful imperfections of this shared human experience.