When I am miserable it is usually because my mind is full of negative, discounting messages. That might happen because I’ve done or said something I think was wrong or stupid, because I am worrying about some future event, or because I’m upset about something someone else has done. I have to admit that when I am stressed and/or miserable, I am likely to go to the store and buy a big cookie, a doughnut, chocolate or ice cream!
While sugar is all too often part of my “fix”, I generally don’t stop there. I have learned many things over the years about quieting the mind. As I remember the teachings, or use the techniques I have been taught, my inner critic tends to calm down.
1) Years ago, I heard Amma tell a story about desire. She used the example of chocolate. If we’ve been craving chocolate, we are likely to feel bliss the moment we have that first taste. If the bliss was from the chocolate then we could eat more and more chocolate and feel more and more blissful.
The reality, of course, is that the more chocolate we eat, the sicker we become. So the bliss is not from the chocolate, the bliss is because in that moment our mind is silent and we are free from desire.
Generally, once one desire is met, our mind goes on to another one, and then another. This never ending stream of desires can become one source of our misery. If this is the case, then we may obtain relief by examining our desires and making our “cup of wants” smaller. Focusing on the moment at hand and experiencing it fully rather than running on to something else may also quiet our minds.
2) Having expectations are another source of misery. If we think we or others should act in a certain way, then we are likely to feel angry, sad or scared when that doesn’t happen. If we take the attitude that we are all doing the best we can on this journey called life, then we are likely to be more compassionate with ourselves and others.
3) Stephen Gilligan, an Ericksonian hypnotherapist, taught me that our bodies must have trance (i.e. altered state) experiences, and that if we do not get that trance in healthy ways we will create it through unhealthy behaviors such as obsessive thinking, compulsions, and addictions.
In an altered state experience, our minds become significantly slower than in our normal state and we are much more in the moment. As humans, our most powerful insights usually occur, not when we are thinking about them, but when our minds are silent. Creativity is the same in that art, inventions, and scientific inspirations so often emerge during times of stillness.
Natural trances occur when we do activities such as listen to music, dance, meditate, write, read, pray, walk, run, exercise, knit, crochet, sew, cuddle our kids, garden, or watch the sunrise, sunset, clouds, water ripples, fire in the fireplace, etc.
3) I once was taught that depression and gratitude cannot co-exist. I believe that to be true. When we focus on gratitude our spirits lift and our minds slow down.
For many years, I attended an African American church in Seattle. One of their common phrases was “When the praises go up, the blessings come down.” I don’t believe that that works because God needs our praise, but rather that when we focus on praise our mind becomes one pointed in a trance producing way. Our hearts open and creates an opening for Spirit to come in.
Learning to take the attitude that at some level, everything that happens to us has value can really help in shifting the misery and negative thinking patterns. Coming from that attitude does not make abusive acts that we have experienced or done in our past okay, but it does acknowledge that we have learned from those experiences. Think how many people say that their lives have changed for the better as a result of having had cancer.
4) I find mantra to be a very helpful process in slowing down my mind. I use a spiritual mantra, but it is also possible to use affirmations. To be effective, I believe it’s important to say the same affirmation at least 1000 times a day (and preferably 5,000-20,000 times) for 21 days. I have had the experience of saying my mantra in the higher numbers and then waking up in the night with it going through my mind automatically. Imagine what it would be like to have something positive going through your mind all night instead of the deluge of negative thinking. (I shared more about this process in Brainwashing the Mind.)
5) I believe it is helpful to see the vulnerable part of myself and others as a child and the critical part as an angry parent. What would you think if you were at a restaurant and heard someone berating a child in the same way you berate yourself and/or others. You would probably see it as abusive. If we learn to use our healthy parent parts, instead of the critical parent parts, to deal with our internal children, those vulnerable parts will feel relief and our minds will quiet down. We usually treat each other much better than we treat ourselves. If we can provide that same compassionate listening to ourselves, peace is much more likely to flow within us.
There is so much more I can say on this topic, but I will stop here for now. Perhaps I will write more in the future!
What helps you silence YOUR mind?
Written for Dungeon Prompts-Season 3, Week 2: The Healing Arts