Mindfulness has been a fascinating tool for me, and every day I learn something new about my mind and myself. What is certain is that what I discover is not always pretty, and in that I totally understand the value of self-kindness. Without it, I would be a quivering wreck, not wanting to go out the house, let alone socialise. The more I learn the more I realise I am a new beginner in Mindfulness each day, and I am quietly shocked about the different versions of myself I seem to have been (and still am) throughout my life.
Recently I have particularly noticed how my mind works. It really does take an interest in the constant stream of content it presents as if it believes in every thought and every story. I notice how quick I react to even mildly negative events with the self-critical thought that it is my fault and I have don’t something wrong. Most of the time it turns out to be completely unfounded, and I recognise how much I have invested in the story. This investment is detrimental because it takes its toll on my energy, time and health. Anxiety is not a healthy feeling to have in the body for very long, and yet it seemingly creates itself and lurks there for ages. It takes tremendous effort to calm it down. It sometimes feels like it has a life of its own.
It feels like my mind takes specific interest in the thoughts that arise – following it like a soap opera, until I realise, give myself a shake, and tell it to stop.
But then that’s a whole other story. Telling it to stop, is like shouting at the thoughts, telling them to go away. So, when that happens, I feel as if I am in battle with myself and that is exhausting too. And the thoughts don’t go away. Shouting at them and trying to make them go away seems to reinforce their presence and existence.
During the Level 1 Mindfulness training we talk about how it feels to leave thoughts alone and just allow them to be there, but not buying into their stories. Interestingly I know how to do this, but quite often life takes over, I get sucked in and there I am caught in the trap of believing the stories my mind tells me.
It seems to take time to master something new. When I look back, in hindsight, I am curious about all the mistakes I made and how many of these were the result of believing the stories in my mind.
Teasdale and Chaklason talk about how Mindfulness can gradually help us to transform “through changes in what the mind is processing, changes in how the mind is processing it, and changes in the view of what is being processed”. Unless we take a look at what the mind is doing, we are unaware of how we are totally at the mercy and under its’ influence.
Williams, Teasdale et al state that “We have gotten so used to its whisperings that we don’t even notice it is here. And so, it shapes our lives.”
Personally, it feels like being under a spell. I almost feel woozy from it. When I do surface I can feel the power and energy of the thoughts trying to pull me in, like a magnetic field.
During our lives we are constantly being shaped by the susurrations of the mind. As I reflect, I find it hard to identify with the various versions of myself that reacted to situations throughout my life. And yet at the time I was subject to the influences of situation and flow of thoughts in my mind.
There were times that I made, what now seem like, huge, stupid mistakes. I did things then that I would never do now, simply because I now have information and knowledge that I didn’t have then.
But just as the current stream of thoughts of my mind is seemingly an echo of the past, I clearly have learned from my past experiences. It seems that now I know better I can now do better. Mindfulness has provided me with the gift of recognising when I get caught in the mind trap and once I see it, I can move on from it much quicker than I could before. I feel reassured that I did the best with the knowledge I had at any given time of challenge in my life.
Compassion has played a very important part in this process. I remember a therapist once saying to me that if I didn’t know all the ingredients needed to bake a cake, then how could I expect it to turn out perfectly?
Whilst we learn from the past, dwelling on it is counterproductive, and our energy is best spent learning how to be in the present moment.
Difficult experiences can serve as some of our greatest teachers, but sometimes they can make us become stuck. It is important that we recognise this, and once again, Mindfulness can help us in the process. Knowing what is happening, while it is happening, whatever it is, anchors us in the present moment. This gives us the opportunity to notice if we are feeling stuck, and if we need help to move something through.
We need to recognise whether we have become stuck because we haven’t quite let go of past pain or difficulty. This could be playing in the mind and become impossible to resist when the thoughts of feelings pop up. If we notice that we are feeling resentful, withdrawn, sad or we are working very hard to avoid being hurt, it is possible that we are suffering from being stuck.
This is the opportunity to see if we can embrace how we feel. We know we either become immersed in our thoughts and let them become the boss. On the other hand, we also know that we sometimes don’t let them boss us around and shout at them to go away. Neither of these helps us move on. Befriending our thoughts and feelings, welcoming them, may seem a brave move. But this can be the route to freedom. When we notice our persistent thought patterns and how these are making us feel, we can consider embracing them and allowing any past pain to pass through.
Throughout the day, armed with mindfulness, we can mindfully observe our thoughts and check whether we are buying into the stories and investing our energy in a beneficial way.
We are aware of how powerful our thoughts can be and we also know that the present moment is where our true reality lives. If we notice the mind dwelling on a negative story that the mind has presented, we can become aware of that and switch our thinking to focus on something positive, no matter how small. It is like switching our view to focus on what is right rather than what is wrong.
It can be useful to remember that each thought we have has an impact on us, and often others too. If we can slow down and take notice, then we are able to invest our energy wisely by choosing how to respond to thoughts, feelings and the events that present themselves in daily life.
During daily life or in our meditation practice, we might want to look at how we are reacting to this constant stream of thought which arises of its own accord. Can we take a deep breath, remain present, and allow it just to be that, a passing thought?
How does it feel if we just notice the thoughts are there, allow their presence, but not react to them?
John D. Teasdale & Michael Chaskalson (Kulananda) (2011) How does mindfulness transform suffering? II: the transformation of dukkha, Contemporary Buddhism, 12:1, 103-124, DOI: 10.1080/14639947.2011.564826
The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness; Guilford Press (2007) by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn; page 163
She will also be guiding the online Mindfulness course which runs on a Wednesday evening, starting 12th January, 2022.
She has contributed a chapter to the Mindful Heroes Book entitled “Turning Empathic Distress into Compassion – A Hero’s Journey for Family Carers”. You can hear an extract from the chapter where she talks about the results of her MSc Studies in Mindfulness on Compassion & Family Carers. You can download a free sample of Jacky’s chapter here.