Managing the Mind

Do you feel that your mind has you running around in circles?
Does your mind have control of You rather then you having control of It?

The mind was meant to serve us. It is programmed to not only help us survive, but thrive in our society. But instead of the mind serving us, many of us end up serving the mind. I liken it to one of those big dogs we often see dragging around their owners. Wherever the dog wants to go, the owner is pulled along rather than the other way around.

How do we know if we are one of those “owners”? Does the mind like to stay up at night worrying when you want to go to sleep? Does it only add to your “to do” list when you are trying to relax? Does it chew endlessly on conversations and events that have already passed? Does it hound you to indulge in those unhelpful habits, until you finally give in? Does it sometimes drive you to react with a ferociousness you didn’t know you possessed?

These are all examples of the way the mind can drag us around and create unnecessary stress—not only emotionally, but physically as well. Being pushed around by the mind over-tires the body, and just like a car that’s put in overdrive, something will give out eventually. It is only a matter of time before the state of our mind begins to become evident in the form of physical symptoms. If we can learn to create a more helpful relationship to stress-producing thoughts, we can help prevent these symptoms from occurring.

What to do?
It is not that the mind is a problem, but we need to know how to manage it so its talents serve us and its habits don’t run us.

The first thing we need to recognize is there are only a very small percentage of mental habits that don’t serve us. There are thousands upon thousands of thoughts traveling through our consciousness on any given day. But among those, there are only a few that “hook” us and get us into mental knots.

Here are some examples of obstructive mental tendencies. Here’s what they do and how you can practice reigning in the mind and directing it where you want it to go:

I. Resisting the way things are

We have two choices in any situation, whether delayed at an airport, preparing for an exam, or listening to that person who just won’t be quiet. We can resist the situation and experience the event plus our frustration about it, or we have the option just to experience the situation itself. The choice is up to us. One solution is to ask the mind which options it wants; the event plus an extra helping of stress? Or just the event itself?

Practice:
Once the mind is on board, try resetting with a body scan: Withdraw from the resistance to the event by placing your attention on your body. Start at the top of your head and sweep your attention down through your whole body, ending with your attention on your feet grounded on the floor. Eyes can be open or closed.

With a more relaxed body, wait until the mind can relax with the reality of the event. Then, from a calm and centered place, do what makes most sense to be done; whether looking into other flight arrangements, using the time to do some much-needed work, or buying yourself a nice meal. Though the discomfort of the situation may not disappear, it will likely dissipate.

II.The “What Ifs”

The mind is the most gifted screenwriter we will ever meet. It loves to take a situation and add on all kinds of “What ifs …?” to anything. It can come up with the most outlandish scenarios, all of which we insist on trying on and playing out to the bitter end. We can imagine ourselves, homeless and alone in one moment, dying from a disease in another, and make up all kinds of stories about why our friends or loved ones are not present at the appointed hour.

The more we invest our total being into those thoughts the more they affect the health of our physical body. For every scenario we create, the body experiences the emotions and associated chemicals with each one. Though we often engage in these habits as a form of mental entertainment, we fail to recognize that this is detrimental to us and to the body until we are so deeply enmeshed in a mental drama we ourselves created, we can’t find our way out again.

Practice:
Often we don’t recognize we have the power to call the shots on the where the mind goes and does not go. Just like that dog that pulls its owner around, we have become so used to following our thoughts around, we no longer recognize we have a choice.

When I catch myself going down a well-traveled road of “what ifs”, fantasies, worries or unfinished projects, I stop, make my mind go completely blank, and hold it like that for 10-30 seconds. Then I will allow the normal thinking process to continue. If the mind goes back to the issue, I will repeat the exercise until the mind no longer goes back to that issue. This will usually work on medium-intensity issues, or something that has been caught early on.

Sometimes, however, the mind will continue to chew like a dog with a bone. Try to stop feeding it as best as you can. Let it think, talk, argue and converse, but try not to give it any additional fuel. Think of it as allowing your dog the bone it has, but not giving it any more. At some point it will be bored and will move on.

When you notice that you could bring in extra ammunition by rehearsing, rationalizing or justifying your position, don’t do it. Let the conflagration of the mind and emotions die of their own accord by depriving it of any additional material.

Often, changing your energy will help you do this. Consider taking a walk, doing yoga or getting in water to change your energetic state. When performing the activity pay attention to it. When the mind starts pulling you back into the drama, counteract by paying acute attention to the minutiae of what you are doing now. The more you can anchor in what you are doing, seeing, and feeling now, the less your mind is able to engage in its drama.

And if all else fails, use the experience as information. Notice how it feels when you go down that road. If you pay attention to how bad it makes you feel, the next time around, you’ll be more likely to pull the mind back from its habits before they go too far.

Recognize this is a practice –it is not about perfect. Every time you pull yourself back, you are saving your body from unnecessary emotional and chemical stressors. You are making one more step on the path of relating to your thoughts in a way that help you rather than hinder you.

September 6, 2010
Kamini Desai, Ph.D.

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