Clients come into my practice seeking relief from adversity they’re facing. Divorce, death, depression…any number of difficult events have led them to set up an appointment with me. They’re seeking peace of mind and can’t find it on their own.
In this post, I’ll provide you the simple path to discovering this elusive state of mind.
Before I describe how to free your mind from thoughts, and experience peace of mind, allow me to describe what thoughts are. They are spontaneous responses that pop up in our mind and are tied to our conditioning. This is a subconscious process that’s natural and for most of us can’t be shut off completely.
Each person has his or her own thought patterns. They are the result of experiences we’ve been exposed to and have had in the past. In our daily lives, we use them to label events and they swing between two poles: fear and desire.
We want more of some things and if we don’t receive them, we are unhappy. And if we receive what we wanted, we then fear losing it.
For example, imagine you’re seeking your soul mate. You may say to yourself, “I’m so unhappy, I haven’t found my soul mate yet.”
And then once you do find him or her you may say, “I’m so happy I’ve found my soul mate. But I’m afraid of this ending.”
While thoughts serve an important purpose, for instance, they may keep us from danger or cause us to take action on something important, for the most part, they aren’t necessary. In fact, they actually add stress to our lives. Most of all, they keep us from living in the present moment, which is another way to describe having peace of mind.
But rather than push them away, the key is to learn how to handle our thoughts when they come up. After all, they’ll most likely keep coming up until the day we die.
In order to master our thoughts rather then being slaves to them, we must first identify the patterns and thought processes we’ve developed. Most of us typically do the following:
Tell the never-ending story: Let’s say you’re worried about your finances. You may think, “I have no idea what will happen next year!” This droplet of a thought then grows into a trickle or flash flood comprising an endless stream of worry. This fear may continue for the next five minutes, keep you up all night, or stay with you for the rest of your life.
Wish It Away: Some of us take the shame-based approach of criticizing ourselves when an uncomfortable thought arises. When we observe a thought we don’t like, we may tell ourselves, “I’m so stupid, why do I continue to obsess about this?” “What’s wrong with me?” or “I should be over this by now and living a peaceful life.” Unfortunately, wishing it away doesn’t work. In fact, shame, suppression, and other efforts to block out thoughts, only make them stronger.
Bringing awareness to when we’re telling the never ending story or wishing it away or both, will result in dramatic change. Once we do this, we simply witness the thoughts. As if you were watching a movie, you observe your thoughts.
When you’re in a theater, you may feel the happiness or sadness of the characters, but you don’t identify their experiences as yours. And when you exit the theater you’re quickly reminded that it was all just a movie.
The process of observing is actually very short. The thought arises and you’ve identified the type of thought. The next step is key: You go back to focusing on what is unfolding in real life, outside your thoughts.
To review, thoughts spontaneously arise. These are conditioned, subconscious responses that are natural and will occur throughout your life. When they come up, bring awareness to them. Then stop telling the never ending story or wishing them away. Observe them and then return to what is arising in the present moment.
The steps I’ve described to you won’t come naturally at first. You’ll have to repeat them over and over again. The good news is that thoughts will continue to arise, so you’ll have countless opportunities to practice!
The more often we practice, the quieter the mind becomes. Over time, the peace of mind we’re searching for will emerge like the lotus flower from the murky waters below.