What are you doing with your mind?

image of brain made up of words like story, belief, judgment, habit

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” ~John Milton

The mind is a powerful thing, and too often allow its running programs to take over and create our reality unchecked. How much better it is to learn to work with our minds to create a reality that works well for us.

What are you doing with your mind?

Thoughts are boomerangs

Boomerang

“Thoughts are boomerangs, returning with precision to their source. Choose wisely what you throw.” ~Anonymous

There was a time when my head was a very scary place to venture.

The thoughts in there weren’t very kind (especially to myself). As a result, life didn’t seem very kind to me either.

Over time I’ve learned that while I may not have any control over what thoughts appear, I do have control over which ones I entertain and allow to stick around.

Exercising this choice has made such a difference not only in what goes on in my head, but also in the quality of my life as a whole.

My thoughts and my life are much kinder these days.

What thoughts do you allow in your head? How could you choose them more wisely?


 

Posts from other divisions of Chrysalis Wellness for this week

rocking chairs
Going backward to move forward
from the A Kintsugi Life blog
Lavender and cedar milled soap
Lavender and cedar milled soap from Autumn Leaf Botanicals featured products
Tigereye stacking stretch bracelet with a sterling silver tree charm
Tigereye stacking stretch bracelet with a sterling silver tree charm from the Earthwear Collection portfolio

The power of now

I start all of my yoga classes with a brief meditation on the breath. The reason I do that is to help my students become aware of the present moment—the eternal now. Our bodies are always present in the current moment and in our current location. Our minds, however, spend most of the time in the past or in the future or somewhere else other than here and now. The practice of focusing the mind on the breath brings the mind back to be present in current moment and the current space with our bodies. For this reason, yoga refers the breath the link between the mind and the body.

It sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Just focus on the breath, and it will bring you back to the present moment, the here and now. And it really is that simple. It’s also that difficult. Anyone who has tried meditation knows just how challenging this practice really is. And yet, everything we will ever do or accomplish in our lives must be done with our bodies. All of our actions, all of our communication, all of our work in this world happens via our bodies, which are always present in the here and now. It makes sense, therefore, to spend more time with our minds joining our bodies in the now to maximize our accomplishments.

This doesn’t mean that there is no value in thinking on the past or the future, however. The past can be a rich source of learning as we uncover lessons we have learned, patterns we keep recreating in our lives, or practices that we can make use of now. Thoughts of the future and the goals we hope to achieve can be very important in keeping us on track to continue growing and learning and becoming the people we wish to be. The problem comes when we want to live in some place and time other than the here and now.

My personal measure for determining whether I am consulting the past or the future for useful information or whether I am trying to live in the past or the future is to check my emotional barometer. When I am checking the past for lessons that might be useful to me today or envisioning future possibilities to help me make decisions or set goals, my emotions are those of curiosity and detachment. I am in a place of learning and inquiry. When I am living in the past by obsessing over things that have happened to me or dwelling in the future by worrying over things that I cannot do anything about in this moment, my emotions tend to be anxious, sad, angry, or discouraged. Most importantly, though, I am not learning. I am not detached. I am not curious.

When I find myself in those  spaces (and I often do), I find it helpful to start with a deep breath to bring me back to my body in this moment in this place. Then I can acknowledge the emotions that have come up and inquire about what I can learn from my sojourn in that other place and time that can inform my actions in this moment. By being curious about what it can do for me now, I don’t invalidate my feelings or my concerns, but it reminds me that I can only act in the here and now where my body is.

Here and now is all I have. It’s all you have too. What strategies do you use to bring yourself back to the here and now when your mind has gone off to another place and time?

This post is part of a blog hop series sponsored by students and graduate Coaches of ICA. Please hop on over to their posts and see what else you can learn about ”The Power of Now.

Esme Gosling – Money Coach  http://bit.ly/xu0bLi

Sandra Seibert – Joyful Growth Coach  http://joyfulgrowthcoach.com/2012/02/the-power-of-now-a-moment-of-stillness/

 Renee Vos de Wael – Intuitive Coach   http://reneevosdewael.com/2012/02/20/is-the-power-now/

 Namrata Arora – Life and Career Coach for women in transitions  http://aboutcoaching.wordpress.com/2012/02/18/the-power-of-now/

Tracy Coan – Bodacious Possibilities  http://bodaciouspossibilities.com/2012/02/choose-you-choose-now/

Jayde Gilmore – Wings LifeCoaching  http://wingslifecoaching.tumblr.com/

Brandy Morris-Chaudhry – Illuminated Perspective  http://www.illuminatingpotential.com/

Nuria Lencina – Coachinu  http://coachinublog.com/2012/02/20/the-power-of-now/

Pamela Rudisill – In Sight Life Coaching  http://insightlifecoaching.co/2012/02/20/the-power-of-now/

Louise Gray – Communication Coach, Learner Focused Coaching  http://learnerfocusedcoaching.com/2012/02/20/what-was-i-saying/

Jenn Brockman – Kick Ass Website Coach  http://kickasswebsitecoach.com/the-power-of-now

Rebecca Macfarlane – Turning Stones Coaching (Business Start Up and Career Coach)  http://wp.me/p1xmJl-dZ

We are not our minds

In Western culture, we tend to not only view the mind, the body, and the spirit as separate parts of our being, but we also tend to place the highest value on the mind. I think this is slowly beginning to shift, but the priority we place on the value of our minds is something that is still an often unconscious assumption that underlies our choices, our behavior, and where we place our attention. Our body is often seen as just a housing for our minds. Likewise, western religion has shown a tendency to see the body as just the vessel that holds our spirit, with the spirit being given the greater value than the lowly vessel.

While most of us do acknowledge the obvious effects our bodies can have on our minds—like the fact that we may have a harder time concentrating when we are tired or have a harder time controlling our emotional responses when stressed—research continues to show us that these interconnections are more pervasive and more subtle than we often assume.

I read a fascinating post today in Scientific American online called A Brief Guide to Embodied Cognition: Why You Are Not Your Brain by Samuel McNerney that shares some history of the field of embodied cognition as well as some of the latest research findings. The entire article is absolutely fascinating! What they are finding is that our thoughts are much more strongly influenced by our physical experiences than we have previously realized.  Many of the metaphorical expressions we use every day are indicators of this connection.

For example, one study found that in a brief interaction with a stranger, a study participant who was holding warm cups of coffee was more likely to find the stranger trustworthy than a study participant holding cold cups of coffee. This impact of warmth on our perception of another person fits well with our expression of “warming up” to someone as we get to know them and develop a positive perception of them. This influence also works the other way. Another study showed that study participants who had just spent time remembering a situation in which they were socially accepted judged the temperature of the room to be about five degrees warmer than study participants who had just spent time remembering a situation in which they were snubbed.

These sorts of unconscious interplays between mind, body, and spirit are occurring every moment of every day of our lives. When we attempt to place our priority and our focus only on our “rational” minds, we lose sight of the fact that the mind is interconnected with our bodies and our spirits in a way that cannot be cleanly divided into separate areas.

For me, yoga has been one powerful way for me to become more aware of my full state of being. The development of a witness, or observer, consciousness through asana practice and meditation has allowed me to live with greater awareness of my body, my spirit, and my mind in any given moment so I can evaluate my thoughts and feelings with a more complete data set. It brings a greater mindfulness to all that I do.

In one of my coaching classes last night, we discussed how often we react to situations based on past experiences that have pre-conditioned us rather than responding in the present moment to the situation that is actually at hand. The most powerful way to break these pre-conditioned reactions (or what yoga calls samskara) is to take a moment to become aware of the information that our emotions and our body itself is giving us before we respond.

Not only has taking that time to notice helped me begin to change long-standing habits and make better decisions, it’s also helping me place a higher value on taking care of my body. I still have LOTS of room to grow in this area, but I am finding myself paying more attention to how much I sleep, what I eat, how much water I drink, my physical posture, and how much activity I am getting. I’m starting to make better decisions about my self-care, and I am learning to take the state of my body into account when I consider the messages my thoughts and feelings are telling me. It has truly broadened and enhanced my world.

How do you make these connections between your mind, your body, and your spirit? Do you give an equal priority to all of who you are? If not, can you think of one thing you can do today to start bringing better balance?

Meditation’s unexpected gift

The ancient yogis used meditation as a route to samadhi, the state of oneness with all things which is the yogic version of enlightenment. In fact, of the eight limbs of yoga according to Patanjali, four of them are steps along this route: pratyahara (withdrawing the senses from distractions around us), dharana (concentration on one object), dhyana (steadfast meditation), and samadhi (a state of oneness).

As I embarked on my own journey with meditation, I naturally set my goal as achieving samadhi. I did realize that this was a long, slow process that would require much practice, but that was my goal—that blissful state of oneness beyond thought, a place where I could just BE free of the chatter of my mind.

It didn’t take long for me to discover that meditation had an entirely different gift in store for me.

As I sit on my mat and focus on my breath, my monkey mind goes chattering off in a hundred different directions at once. I breathe and just watch this noisy parade of thoughts march by—not trying to stop the flow or change the nature of the thoughts—just observing them from a neutral, curious place. I’m slowly learning to not follow any of the thoughts, not grab them, not fight them, not judge them. This process produced two amazing discoveries for me.

First, I am not my thoughts. There is something that is ME that is observing those thoughts. This something—yoga calls it parusa, others may call it the higher self or the soul or the witness consciousness, I call it my curious observer-self—is unswayed by my thoughts. It simply IS.

Second, my thoughts are a jumble of chattering nonsense stemming from a whole crowd of personas that I commonly confuse as being my “self.” This stuff isn’t even coming from something real! And it’s definitely not objective truth that I need to listen to or believe. Who knew? (So much for Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am”!)

As someone who has spent so much of her life living in her head, this discovery that my thoughts are not only not ME, but they’re not even “real” is mindblowing. In fact, it’s been amazingly freeing…completely transformative even.

Someday I may reach samadhi if I keep coming back to my mat long enough. Then again, I may not. And, you know, that’s really ok with me. The joyful, amazing freedom I’ve found in discovering my curious observer-self and letting go of my slavery to my thoughts is worth every moment I ever have and ever will spend in meditation.

What a valuable gift!