How our minds torture us at times! It is natural process to ruminate when something is distressing or feels impossible to accept. Like everyone, I have suffered with obsessive or intrusive thoughts. It doesn’t happen like that for me anymore.
In the yoga meditation traditions we learn the mind has 4 parts:
ahamkara – ego or sense of identity (in a positive sense)
buddhi – higher level or intuitive layer
manas – lower level of mind, thought stream
chitta – storehouse of memories, impression, associations
When we’re watching thought, we are accessing chitta, the storehouse. Impressions that have any kind of intensity (fear, joy) trigger sensation in our body and we’re pulled into them. They compel us to pay attention. This is part of our primitive survival system.
Many people have developed the habit of always following thought and not paying attention to the rest of our experience. We really believe thoughts are everything. That our thoughts are who we are. When we have thoughts about something that brings up fear, we are not comfortable being present with sensation in our body. Then we try to figure everything out on the layer of thought or the conscious mind. It can be helpful to use the mind to understand the process. We also need to include energy in our body.
Thoughts appear in the mind as sounds and images (video clip or photograph). Neutral thoughts don’t trigger energy or sensation in the body. Charged thoughts do evoke a response in our body. Scott Kiloby speaks of this as the Velcro Effect. We observe this directly through mindfulness practice. We learn to step back and witness the mechanics of the thought process. We discern helpful and unhelpful thoughts and patterns. We rest in the gap between thought. We realize there is more to us than the thought that is running through that layer of the mind at any given moment.
Thoughts come seeking our attention. When something disturbing happens, I notice an increased volume and intensity of thoughts. Anxious thoughts often involve imagining worst case scenarios. We’re making it up! What we see in our mind is not actually happening! Yet our stress hormones are activated, our body tightens and we suffer in a loop of anxiety and fear.
Sometimes I’ll notice the sensation first. My shoulders and upper back contract as I unconsciously try to protect myself. I sit with that and allow my body to relax. That sensation is a clue. I need to attend to something. If cement shoulders could actually protect me, it might be worth the pain. When I recognize that process happening, I can allow the whole system to soften and release.
We all try to protect ourselves from pain. The problem is that our strategies of avoiding, distracting or lashing out don’t work. Being present does.
In my work with the Living Inquiries and as a meditation teacher for 20 years, I have helped hundreds of people to heal their minds. Watch these videos, work with them in daily life and let me know how you are doing. firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo credit: Stuart Miles