My mind is full of thoughts…

Is your mind is full?  Do you feel flooded with racing thoughts, images, ideas, memories?  It can sometimes feel like there is no room for anything  else in there.  Feeling too full in the mind often goes with feeling charged up (not in a pleasant way) in the body, and there are usually unpleasant feelings attached.  If you have ever suddenly realized what you are thinking is making you feel bad, you are not alone.

The practice of mindfulness helps people to notice the contents and processes of the mind.  Sitting quietly and just being with yourself is a way to directly access the mind.  But I know people who find it overwhelming, especially if they think they are supposed to “quiet the mind.”    We all start in different places.   For people who feel “full up” in the mind, another strategy is called for.

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If there is no space in your mind, you can pay attention to what IS in your mind. To start, you can label your process as “thinking.”

“Thinking.”  Just noting that you are thinking may help you separate a bit from it.  If just adding the label isn’t enough, you can notice the categories.  What is the CONTENT of this “thinking?”   Lists?  Memories?  Fantasies?  Imagined conversations?   Redecorating the living room?    What are the contents that fill your inner space?   When you can start to notice the contents and categorize them, then you have created a bit of space to witness your own mental activities.

So if I notice that my mind is busy making lists (things to do, what to get at the grocery store, reminders of tasks) then I have stepped out of the content for a moment, at least long enough to see….oh, yes, I am  “thinking,”  specifically, I am making lists.

If I am busy reliving last night’s party, then I can note that – ah, yes, I am remembering.   If I can observe and label, then I am witnessing my own process.  I am not in the thought, but outside of it.

As a witness to my mind,  I can decide how I want to interact with those contents.  If I remember that somebody was unpleasant to me at the party, I can decide if I want to stay with that memory and maybe regenerate some unpleasant feelings.   By labeling the content as “memory”, I make distance from the thought, and then I am in charge of myself.  Otherwise, my mind may run away with me into a waterfall of unpleasant memories and emotional distress.

If that’s already happened, and I am overwhelmed with thoughts that feel upsetting, I can notice it.   I can become aware that there is a rush of thoughts and feelings cascading through my mind and body.  Perhaps I notice it is like a river in full flood, with logs and debris and crashing brown water barreling through my mind.  If I can notice that, I might be able to rise above this river and observe the flow, becoming a witness to this internal process of thoughts, feelings, and reactions. I am no longer in the river, but observing it.

When I have stepped back from the surging river, I have changed my relationship to it.   I am no longer in danger of drowning, although I can still feel and think everything I was feeling and thinking before.  I am out of danger.  Through paying attention to my process,  I can predict where I might get pulled in again, and remind myself to stay on the banks,    Staying out of the river isn’t about controlling thoughts or feelings;  it is about compassionately observing your process as you experience those thoughts and feelings, watching the river in full spate, and watching as it slows and clears and calms.  This is a way that space opens up in the mind.

Learning to make friends with your mind takes attention and compassion for yourself.  Like any kind of training, it takes practice.  When my mind is in charge of me, I am lost in my thinking processes.  When I am in charge,  I can observe what happens without getting lost in the process.   I can decide to watch my thoughts or to jump in the water with them.   Either way, there is an exquisite freedom to owning your own mind.

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Checking in

Just in this moment, right now, check in with yourself. Notice what you sense in your body. Notice how you are holding yourself, your position in space. Then notice sensations in your body. What comes into awareness? Now check your breathing. Just notice your breath in your body. 

If you notice thought, that’s okay. That’s part of what you’re checking on. See if you can let the content go for a moment while you finish checking in. 

As you shift into this mindful moment, see if a desire to move or change something is there. See the desire before you take the action. If you do make a movement or other change, notice how you are then, too. Did you get what you were seeking?

This is how we get to know ourselves, on a moment by moment basis. Who you are in these moments is who you are in your life. 

What do you notice?

The Space Between

Michelle at The Green Study posted this today….I love the attention to the spaces between those things that grab our attention.  What can you notice in your day today?  Where do you experience spaces?  I am going to watch myself for space….

The Green Study

An interval of silence

when your arm no longer bows

music at rest

time to breathe

canstockphoto7479668An interval of rest

between reps and sweat

your muscle regroups

lives to fight another set

An interval of breath

dozy conscientiousness

before sleep carries you

into the shadows

An interval of quiet

before the kids wake up

and after the dog has been walked

coffee steam swirls up your nose

An interval of observation

standing in lines

watching the cashier

have a good or bad day

An interval of thought

Mouth closed mind open

walking about

in the shoes of someone else

An interval of grace

for that momentary glance

that says I’ve got your back

for the child still snoring on a school holiday

An interval of peace

a cup of a tea

the list that doesn’t need

to be started right now

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On living and dying

When I die, let me lie down in the forest

Let the wild animals gnaw on my bones

Let the tiny animalcules burrow into this flesh, putrefying and liquidizing

Until my cells become elements

And my flesh is earth and air

And life reconstructs those components into something newly alive.

 

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When I die my body is dead, is no more

and my consciousness is also no more

released away as a product of living tissue to become a part of the ineffable

the universe first of thought, memories and feelings of others

And later just a turn of the head or shape of an eye in my children’s children’s children.

 

Blessed is my life

My living body, my living self

Blessed is me, the “I” that I experience as a blade of grass, full of myself,

full of belief in my own individuality importance specialness.

I am an expression of my Mother

This planet who birthed us all

Gave rise to our species and is even now modifying and allowing us to modify ourselves and her

a member of this tribe of grasses

mere tubule of intake and output which has somehow developed sentience

And thus believes, each of us, that we are enormously important in the vastness of the universe.

And maybe we are.

Finding my limits

I spend a fair amount of time thinking about how much I have to do, how much I want to do, and whether I can make those two points match up.  New Age-ish philosophy would suggest that there are no limits, that limits to oneself are entirely invented by the mind and thus can be transcended simply be believing that There Are No Limits.

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But what if your limits reflect something good and healthy?  What if your “limits” are really your boundaries?   I have limits, for sure.  I have boundaries, physical, social, and behavioural boundaries that I don’t generally cross or allow others to cross.  These things keep me safe, maintain my integrity.

Boundaries are a body experience.  When you feel yourself sitting on the chair, or feel your feet pushing into the floor, you have an increased awareness of your body in space. As you push those feet down, you can feel your muscles become activated, feel the blood flow more vigorously, feel your inner space.  You know, without even having words for it, where you begin and where the floor ends.   And you also know that the floor can and will support you without invading you or making you conform or hurting you in some way.

However, if that floor was made of Jell-O, or was covered with nails sticking point up, you would have a different experience.  You would still have your boundary….where my body is….where the floor is….but your boundary would tell you that you cannot trust the floor to hold you, or to hold you without impinging on you.

Your BODY tells you that, when you explore the boundary between your body and the floor. Limits are a good thing, I tell you!

I have social limits as well.   I don’t let people touch me without permission.  I don’t say “yes, I’d be happy to do that” if I really am not happy to do that.   I do not invite people to my home whom I don’t want to see.   Those limits are also good for me.

In other places, I want to test my limits, and maybe even shift the boundaries a bit.  Getting older has actually, much as I hate to admit it, meant that my joints are stiffer and less flexible.  When I practice yoga, for example, I try to ease my body gently past some of these physical limits, or boundaries.   When I run, I notice that I can shift the limits….training has that effect.   But those are active choices I get to make.  I am happy to know what my limits are, and grateful that when I want to move past them, I can sometimes do that.  But more grateful that I have them firmly in place for my own safety.  Boundaries help us know where and what we are, and help us in relating to other people.  More on that part…later….
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Ways to welcome a new year (or not)

In early December, the guy at the desk at my gym commented on how busy things will be early in January, and then laughed wryly and said, “Well, you can always just wait until February when things get back to normal.”  People embrace big changes at the beginning of the new year, as if that particular moment in time is especially potent for change-making.

I have participated in this ritual for many years, setting intentions and identifying things I want to move toward.   Today, though, I wonder about it a bit.  Change is a constant.  Change is always happening, and often we resist and regret change.  So why do we want to embrace personal change on January first?

I am thinking it is all (ALL) about control or at least the illusion of control.  If I decide what kind of change I want, and how I want to accomplish that change, then I am not at the mercy of the random-feeling sorts of changes that happen without my permission and without even notification.   This isn’t true, of course, but it is a way that we can comfort ourselves into feeling safe.  Yes, I can go to the gym every day and eat nothing but lettuce leaves, and that will keep me safe from really big painful changes.  Maybe it will just numb me to other changes, or keep me so preoccupied with trying to stay on track that I don’t have to acknowledge that somebody had died, that my job isn’t  satisfying, that my children are struggling and that I don’t know how to help them.

So that’s a theory for today.  But even cursory notice makes it clear that it is an illusion.  We actually live in a world where we have little control.  In the realm of our personal behaviour we do experience ourselves as being able to make choices and manage our responses, but that’s often because we don’t realize the degree to which we have been limited and programmed by our previous experiences or deeply entrenched beliefs.

 

 

Leave “not good enough” behind….

This New Year, I need to lose weight, exercise more, quit smoking, train for a marathon, meditate every single day, read a novel a month, and quit spending money.  Entirely.    (The subtext:  I’m not good enough the way that I am.)

wpid-IMG_20140128_085300.jpgUnrealistic goals, you say?   You bet!  But we engage in this unrealistic process at least annually, and some of us find that we have to be in continuous self-improvement mode to feel even marginally okay about ourselves.

I have been considering this question of self-improvement.  It is a North American pastime, and weight-loss programs, gyms, and other businesses that cater to our sense of being not-okay tend to make a lot of money in January before the motivation flags.

I am interested in this not-okay-ness.  Many of us have a continuous internal criticism process going on.  When we are engaging in our self-improvement behaviour, perhaps the critical voice quiets, or maybe it changes tone. Maybe we feel a bit better for a little while, but usually the judgment shows up again, or perhaps in another way.

Imagine thinking about everyone the way that you think about yourself.  Imagine what it would be like to view everyone as “not good enough” or in need of change.  If you see your partner, your children, your co-workers as all needing to change (generally we need them to change to suit OUR expectations), you probably also see yourself in just as negative a light.   In fact, I suspect that if you see other people in the light of negative judgment, your inner experience of yourself is probably powerfully negative.  And it feels miserable and yucky to think ill of yourself and everyone else.   It becomes so pervasive that even things that you might otherwise see as good and wholesome take on a negative tone (for example, a friend has success and you cannot be happy for her, but can only think of the reasons why she doesn’t deserve it).

Wall sit wikihow creative commonsI’ve heard people say that they are afraid of not being hard enough on themselves.  They think that they might become dissolute, lazy, pointless, or some other scary thing if they are not continuously correcting and criticizing themselves.  Even the idea of letting go of the internal critical voice is hard to think about because who would I be if I didn’t think all of these things about myself?   The inner critic becomes so much a part of us that we cannot recognize that voice as someone else’s.   We think that we are hard on ourselves because we DESERVE it.  And we are hard on other people because they deserve it, and also because why should they get to be themselves if we can’t allow ourselves that luxury?

There is a way out of this, and it isn’t at the gym.  Or it could be at the gym, but the way out actually begins with being willing to question your experience and your thoughts.   What if you were actually wrong about your need to change?  What if you were really okay just as you are, and that your internal litany of self-criticism is just a reflexive thinking pattern?  Would anything else change in your life if you could flex around this issue?

Changing your thinking sounds easy.   You just have to change your mind.  But your mind has been practicing particular thought patterns for years.   Shifting those pathways is not easy but it is simple.  You just have to keep on doing it, over and over.   Let’s look at specifics.

You're making me ANGRYSTEP 1

It is easiest to start with people other than yourself.   So try this:  think about a person in your life, perhaps a very annoying person.  Notice how your mind generates a story about how annoying this person is, and the specific behaviors that annoy you.  See how fast this happens!  Notice pictures, words in your mind, whatever your mind generates, and then notice how your body reacts to this line of thinking.  Don’t judge yourself, just notice!  Now stop all of that internal stuff and begin to look inside your ideas about this person for something that you really appreciate, respect, or even envy.  See if you can generate appreciation, respect, or even pleasure in yourself about this other person.  Try to stay with this thought and the feeling that comes with it;  notice what happens in your mind.  You may generate other ideas that are about appreciation.  You may want to shift back into negative judgment.   Just notice and try to stay with what you appreciate, respect, or take pleasure in.  Watch your thoughts and how your body responds.

What did you find out?   Remember that you are finding out about YOU, not about the other person.  You are finding out what happens to you in your thinking about the other person.

STEP 2

After you have practiced step 1 for awhile, you might notice that your everyday annoyance and judgment of other people is shifting. A practice that can help you to be less critical generally is to make a requirement for yourself that when you indulge in a critical thought about someone, you have to generate three items about that person that you appreciate.  This will help to shift the balance of your thinking from negative criticism to a place where you are feeling more open and positive.  Notice how your body reacts to your thinking.  Remember, for every one criticism, THREE appreciations.

STEP 3

If you have friends who like to engage in offering judgment and criticism of other people as group activity, notice how this feels to you.   Notice how you feel when you join in, and how you feel if you just observe without judging your friends (or their target).  Watch your body and your mind as these interactions go on.

At some point, you might try the experiment of offering an appreciation about the target within your group.   Do this as an experiment to notice how it feels to you to actually go against the group-think, and to see how the other people in the group respond to you.  Can you tolerate feeling outside the group?  Does the open feeling that comes from appreciation help you to manage any anxiety that comes from stepping outside of the norms of your group?

Silver maple flowersSTEP 4

If you have been doing the steps, you probably have begun softening your stance toward yourself without even noticing.   Check it out;   when you notice that you are criticizing yourself, see how that feels.  Then see if it is possible to make a shift to identify something that you actually appreciate about yourself.  For example, I might have spent more money than I planned but I do a good job of providing for my family.  Or maybe I haven’t quit drinking yet, but I have become honest with my partner about it. You cannot lie to yourself about how well you are doing, because your critic will be on alert for that.  (Curious, isn’t it, how we can lie to ourselves about how BAD we are but we cannot lie to ourselves about our acceptable qualities. That’s a topic for another post.)

If you can agree that self-respect is important you might borrow this strategy from the   Emotional Freedom Technique .  Agree about the thing that needs to change, but take the stance that you can still appreciate yourself.    Here are some words to use:  “Even though I have twenty pounds to lose, I still appreciate and respect myself.”

“Even though I …..whatever your critic claims…….I appreciate and respect myself.”

If you want to be radical about this, you can even say something like “I totally love and appreciate myself.”

CONCLUSION

Now you can assess what you might want to change about yourself.   But you can make that assessment from a platform of self-respect and appreciation for who you really are, and not from a place of shame and humiliation that makes you criticize yourself.   Maybe you want to explore your creativity more.  Maybe you want to try a new sport, or dance more.  Maybe you want to learn a new language, or to write code, or to take care of lost animals.  Whatever it is you want to change, let it be about becoming more yourself in the world, and not about conforming to the image of a critical, judgmental part of the self.

In feeling the openness of living in appreciation rather than judgment, you can enjoy more and take more pleasure in your life.  We all know that life has challenges, struggles, pain and sorrow.  These are part of being human.  Those struggles don’t preclude us from pleasure and enjoyment.  We can have all of that, and more.

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