You Are Not Your Thoughts
It’s 3 am and you have woken up and can’t get back to sleep. You lie in bed tossing and turning and as your brain wakes up a little voice in your head starts nagging you with doubts and fears about money… and your business failing… about being unemployed (again)… about being unemployable… you try and ignore it but you can’t…
Later that day you are outside in the countryside, enjoying a walk in a forest, and feeling relaxed. You feel your phone vibrate in your pocket. You try and ignore it, but it keeps on vibrating, and in a milli-second your mind is flooded with thoughts:
“What if there’s been an accident… Oh no it’s probably from work to tell me a client project has got delayed, and you need this project because you are self-employed…Oh dear god, I hope my (elderly) mother hasn’t had another fall and hurt herself again…”
On the drive back there is a news item on the radio rattling out statistics about the Covid-19 related number of business failures in your region… suddenly you are overwhelmed with feelings of anxiety and fear…and your brain is flooded with thoughts of financial disaster.
Thoughts… thoughts… thoughts..!
Setting The Scene
How do we deal with our negative thoughts: thoughts of anger, accusation and despair?
I am not a counsellor or therapist nor in way trained to offer any form of professional advice in dealing with these issues. What I am going to share with you here are my own personal experiences of addressing these issues and suggestions as to what has worked for me.
I must declare three core beliefs that I have and that underpin my take on all this:
(1) I am interested in what works, for me! I am interested in approaches, tools and techniques that I can apply and put into practice. I only want to be informed about something to the extent that it helps me apply a potential solution that may be resourceful and beneficial to me.
(2) I see the universe and our lived experience within it as energy based, thus we live in an energetic universe . This perspective is science based and proven.
(3) More significantly, I see that in addition to living in an energetic universe, we live in a participatory universe. This perspective is supported by science but not yet fully proven by science.
We are going to cover a lot of ground here and in the follow-up article and I am including many links to third party resources and other articles that I have written that will provide a more holistic understanding. I encourage you to follow up and read this material.
In dealing with our thoughts, I have found that there are four stages: awareness of our thoughts; understanding our thoughts; accepting our thoughts; and, living with our thoughts.
(1) Awareness of Your Thoughts
The best way of becoming aware of your thoughts is mindfulness practice. Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh defines mindfulness as “…the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment…”
It is helpful to understand that:
* Your mind is the repository of all of your pre-programmed reactions and response patterns.
* Your body is the vehicle through which your emotional reactions arise and are expressed.
* Emotion is your body's reaction to your mind.
So, if you are new to mindfulness practise and you are struggling to bring your unconscious mental activity into conscious awareness as thoughts, pay very close attention to your emotions.
Your (unconscious) thoughts are always reflected in your body as emotions. So ask yourself: "What am I feeling?"
Mindfulness practise will enable you to watch and observe your emotions and emotional states as they arise, and will empower you to not become totally immersed and identified with them.
How to practice mindfulness?
To make a start with this practice here are 6 basic exercises.
Also, follow these simple instructions for understanding the basics.
Understanding the basics of mindfulness meditation technique is fundamentally very simple – the hardest part is to just do it!
After some practice of mindfulness and with a developing awareness of previously unconscious thoughts as they arise, three things become apparent:
1. The repetitive nature of these thoughts - they are rather like a tape loop.
2. The triggers that give rise to these thoughts - such as: tiredness, stress, emotional vulnerability, other people, the media, circumstances and temperament.
3. The energetic states associated with these repetitive negative thoughts create repetitive negative results.
(2) Understanding Your Thoughts
Put simplistically, we can understand the origin of these thoughts from two perspectives:
1. The hardware - the physiology that creates these thoughts.
This is centred on the amygdala, a major emotional centre in the limbic system. This is responsible for our flight / fight response. The Chimp Model explains this and how it generates many of our unconscious and automatically arising thoughts.
These thoughts are non-rational and largely driven by survival instincts and pleasure instincts - sometimes referred to as our "animal nature".
Many of our negative thoughts stem from this region of the brain.
2. The software - the conditioning from our primary caregivers and dominant adult figures in our childhood that creates these thoughts.
This is a vast subject and there are many psychological models and interventions used to address and "repair" this conditioning.
For simplicity, if we use Buddhist terminology there are three concepts to frame this:
Samskaras - impressions created in our minds and thoughts by our actions or, more damagingly, the actions of others upon us. If these actions are repeated regularly, they become a habit and are performed largely unconsciously. The stronger these habits become - as with all habits - they exercise increasing power.
Anusaya - latent tendencies which are these deeply ingrained samskara, or habits of response and thought, and which are largely unconscious.
Samsara - the cycle of being caught up in perpetual suffering, death and rebirth. This is often thought of in relation to reincarnation but in fact describes the hell on earth - in this life - that we create and endlessly put ourselves through with our samskara and anusaya - or our "shadow side".
Think of this as a ferris wheel of suffering.
(3) Accepting Your Thoughts
The mindfulness practices outlined above will go a long way to helping you develop considerable self awareness and insight into the causes and nature of your negative thoughts.
There is a vast industry of professional psychologists, therapists and counsellors offering a wide variety of interventions, coping strategies and potential solutions. For many people this level of professional assistance is necessary and beneficial.
However there are probably an even greater number of us who either just struggle on and do our best, or who seek to apply the insights gained from these practices to help ourselves. I suggest 3 keys:
1. The key to dealing with these thoughts is acceptance.
2. The key to acceptance is realising that we are not one self but a composite of multiple selves.
3. The root cause of our suffering is that when we deny (suppress or repress) any one part of us we deny the whole; in other words, united we stand, divided I fall.
(4) Living With Your Thoughts
This article continues here: Living With Your Thoughts
What Matters Is Not The Content Of Your Thoughts But Your Relationship With Your Thoughts
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