And they are off again.
Like a hamster frantically charging round and round on its wheel, a mad fury of thoughts stampede through your head, demanding your attention and leaving your inner peace in tatters.
Fear thoughts, anxiety thoughts, worry thoughts, unworthiness thoughts — a crowd of pesky intruders, barging their way into your home, wreaking havoc.
And you have no idea how to stop them.
Powerless and frustrated, you feel like a helpless victim caught up in the crossfire — just hoping the mind will relent and go easy on you.
At times like this, peace can seem a distant prospect.
To compound matters, you then beat yourself up for having had these thoughts in the first place.
”What on earth is wrong with me? Normal people don’t think like this. When will it ever end? I am so messed up.”
The Buddhists use the expression, “second arrow” to describe the additional layer of suffering we habitually create for ourselves by judging the thoughts that appear in our heads.
As we shall see later, understanding this is one of the keys to experiencing instant peace… even WITH a room full of unruly guests.
It is natural to believe that we need to fix or change our troublesome thoughts in order to experience peace. After all, we offer no resistance to the pleasant thoughts that appear in our head.
Trying to change all of our unwanted thoughts into more palatable ones would clearly be a nigh impossible task which could take years to accomplish.
What if there were a far simpler, far more immediate approach to finding peace? A way that doesn’t involve changing the content of the mind at all?
Whose Thoughts Are They Anyway?
I invite you to try this simple exercise. Close your eyes just for a moment and watch closely to see what your next thought will be. When it arrives, open your eyes.
Did you know in advance which thought would appear? I am guessing you didn’t. Would you agree that thoughts seem to arise by themselves?
The mind is a lot like a computer, programmed with impressions from your childhood, cultural influences and your unique life experiences. It regurgitates over and over what has been programmed into it.
We have no more control over the thoughts that appear in our heads than we do over the weather conditions outside.
So why do we beat ourselves up?
We suffer because we take them personally. We believe they reflect who we are as a person.
A Simple Shift In Perspective That Can Change Your Experience In An Instant
We suffer, NOT because of the thoughts themselves but because of the way we relate to them.
We lend them power through our compulsive preoccupation with them. Left alone, thoughts are like neutral events passing through our field of awareness. They have no inherent power to affect our peace.
As one of my teachers puts it: “We suffer because we are open for business.”
It can be quite liberating to realise that engaging with thoughts is not mandatory. We can also choose to leave them alone to do their thing.
“Don’t be concerned about the thoughts that come and go. Leave them alone and they will leave you alone. Leave the mind in peace to do its dance, and it will leave you in peace to do yours. Don’t touch it at all, and you will remain untouched by it” – from my book “Kick The Thinking Habit.”
Roll Out The Red Carpet To ALL Thoughts And Watch Your Peace Blossom
When pleasant thoughts appear, we are perfectly happy to have them around— to invite them in.
The moment an undesirable guest shows up, however — a fear thought, an angry thought, an anxious thought — our shackles are up. We want to get rid of them. We want them out of the house.
To the reactive mind, fear thoughts are bad, anxious thoughts are wrong and anger thoughts are undesirable. We slap an ‘unwanted’ label on them and, in doing so, create an inner conflict.
So, what to do?
What do you think might happen if you were to drop your resistance and welcome them with open arms? What might you experience if you were to roll out the red carpet and invite them all in? The good,the bad and the ugly.
If they are there anyway, would it not be better to turn towards them rather than fight against them — to befriend them rather than treat them as enemies?
You have no control over the stream of thoughts that flows through your head. Everyone’s mind is a mess. It is part of our shared human experience.
But it needn’t be a problem. Leave the front and back door open and let them pass through unimpeded. Don’t touch them and you will remain untouched by them.
If You Want To Tame A Mad Bull, Give Him A Huge Field To Roam Around In
Trying to subdue an angry bull through tying him up or confining him in a small pen doesn’t work. It only makes him more angry and upset.
The best way to calm him down is to set him free — to give him a huge, open space to run around in. Meeting with no resistance, his anger will quickly run its course. He will soon run out of steam.
And it is the same with the mind. The more you try to constrain it, the more trouble it will cause you.
Let it do its crazy dance. There is nothing bad… nothing wrong happening. It will soon run out of steam if you withdraw your attention. The only power it has is the power you give it.
Stop. Breathe. Allow
If you wish to make peace with your mind, you have to start by bringing more awareness to your old, reactive patterns… to notice the tendency to become enmeshed in the downward spiral of negative thoughts producing a judgemental response which in turn leads to more negative thoughts.
You can use this simple 3-step method to step out of this reactive cycle and into the peace of present moment awareness.
Stop. Notice that you have become caught up in your old thinking pattern.
Breathe. Take a long, deep breath and, as you breathe out, relax and consciously let go of any tension you may be holding in your body.
Allow. Give whatever thoughts, feelings or emotions that are present permission to be there. Take another long, deep breath. Whatever thoughts appear, give them space. Embrace them with an attitude of non-judgemental acceptance.
Give more attention to the sensation of the breath moving in and out than you do to the thoughts that come and go. Notice how you can choose where you put your attention.
Befriending An Unruly Mind
An unruly and out of control mind can grind you down and leave you feeling exhausted, powerless and plain beat up.
But it needn’t be that way. The mind is not your enemy. It is a powerful ally you can learn to befriend.
You now have some powerful tools for peace in your arsenal.
The next time you notice yourself getting dragged into a bare knuckle fight with your thoughts, remember to STOP. BREATHE. ALLOW.
The mind is just doing what every mind does. There is nothing special about yours.
How you respond is entirely up to you. The mind only has as much power as you choose to give it. You hold all the cards.
How liberating and empowering is that?
Imagine the next time you have a stampede of negative thoughts galloping through your head and you don’t mind them being there at all.
That is freedom!
Please leave your comments below. I’d love to hear your experience of trying to ‘fix’ your thoughts.