I have a friend that is beautiful and sweet that has a terrible situation with her ex-husband, who is mean and lies about her to their friends and family. Many people know how tormenting it can be to have a retaliatory ex in the picture that you have to continue to deal with because of your children. I shared some things with her the other day regarding my mindfulness practice that I thought would be useful here as well. One of the hardest things in life to deal with is when we feel someone is working against us – whether it is a boss, co-worker, ex-spouse, or whoever. Just the thoughts of it can be tormenting. It can steal your inner peace.
We talk about the authentic path and the authentic self a lot on this site. You wouldn’t think that being one’s authentic self would be so hard, but if you look at all the things working against it, you see why it is such a challenge. I truly believe that our authentic self is that which is divine within us – that which is loving, giving, creative, peaceful, blissful, fearless, timeless — always wanting to discover, connect, explore and expand. But, it doesn’t take much time on this planet for us to develop the ego mind that covers over these wonderful attributes with illusion and delusion. We quickly forget who we really are. The world quickly shows us how to be self-serving and self-preserving.
Part of the problem is we have an amygdala in the brain whose job it is to scan for threats to our safety and well-being. And, although we have this instrument that scans for negative situations, we don’t have a counter to it. There is no part of the brain that is designed to scan for positive and wonderful aspects of our life experience. Thus, there is no built-in counter balance.
My meditation practice has shown me over time that the witness within me that is the observer of my thoughts is what is real. And, that witness is wise, peaceful, fearless and blissful. The thoughts are not real. Anything that you can perceive or observe is obviously not you. We can objectively watch our thoughts, as they are separate from us. They are just things that arise – toys of possibility. And, you don’t have to play with them. You are the observer and chooser of your reality. You can pick and choose with which thoughts you engage.
These days, I’ve extended my meditation practice to that of a mindfulness practice throughout the day. I see activity of the mind as just that – activity. I don’t provoke it and prefer to rarely get involved with it. Thoughts are not necessarily true. In fact, thoughts are just perceptions that we compare against past activities to try to assign them validity, truth or meaning. We quickly try to assign cause and effect to events, rather than knowing that things happen in the world as they do because the world is as it is. No meaning needs to be attached to events. Attaching to any thought, engaging with it, giving it meaning and significance only makes it grow stronger in our experience. So it becomes of benefit to be very picky about the types of thoughts with which we engage.
Think about it this way — there is no mind aside from thought (we are talking mind here, not brain). I like to live in the space between thoughts and move carefully through the maze of them that constantly crop up. I told my friend, it is like walking down a sidewalk with many people. You don’t necessarily make eye contact or speak with each and every one you meet on the sidewalk. Rather, you move and negotiate through the spaces in between them.
Also, see the mind as a web of contradictions. This is a huge source of disgruntlement for us. For instance, we want to be slim and fit, but we want to reach for the pizza, chocolate, wine and fried chicken. Similarly, we want inner peace, but we want to hold on to the judgements we have about those we feel have wronged us. This is the nature of contradiction, you can have one side, but you can’t have both. There lies the irritation. You have to choose and undo your own net of contradictions.
For me, there are three categories of thought that I have found that cause me the most grief. These categories are the ones I identified as the biggest culprits for destroying my inner peace and were the beginning focus of my practice. Knowing these three types helps you quickly recognize thoughts that are going to lead you down a feel-bad path, so you can side-step them from the get go. These days I recognize the three categories of thought right away as they arise. This in and of itself is a pattern interrupt which allows me to turn away from what I know will end up a series of thoughts that lead me down the road to lower level energy states like sadness, envy, anger or upset. Here are the three offending thought types that you can start with to start to tame the mind for more inner peace:
- Control – When I have thoughts come up about other people’s behavior, I quickly recognize it as a control thought and immediately turn away from it. “Why’d he have to go and do that?” “Well if he was thinking about me, he would have…” “Why does she never (fill in the blank)?” “I call her right back. Why does it take her three days?” See what I mean by control thoughts? These thoughts are about other people’s behaviors which we can’t and never will be able to control. It is an utter waste of time and energy to think about why people do or don’t do what they do. It’s out of our control and is not only a waste of time to think about, it just keeps us twisted up. Really the bottom line is, it is our ego wondering if we are truly loved, appreciated, respected or valued or it is just our ego trying to make us more special or more right than the other. Be love. Give love. Everything else will fall naturally into place.
- Comparison – Whenever we compare our lives to others, we can easily fall into a state of disgruntlement. It stokes a ‘lack’ mentality. And, it’s terrible because we live in a society that encourages this. You want six-pack abs like this. You want silky, shiny hair like this Pantene model. And, heaven forbid, you must have a flawless, lineless face like this 65-year-old airbrushed actress. Yes, I could think about my fortunate friends who are already retired and off once again to a beautiful and exotic location while I’m still working hard for a living. But, that is not going to fuel the gratitude I should feel for all the blessings I currently have in my life. Thoughts of comparison lead to envy and little pity parties. Life is too short ya’ll. Train your attention on more useful endeavors.
- Judgement – I’m sure you’ve heard the scripture “Judge not, lest ye be judged.” It is so true! The less you judge others, the less you will feel judged. And, with a practice of not judging you can cultivate all kinds of inner peace. The ego so wants to make others wrong and us right and oh so special. We are already special, unique, one-of-a-kind creations. There is no need to let your mind run with this type of activity. It’s destructive and builds walls between us and the world. Besides, mulling over and over someone’s wrong-doings only makes us miserable.
I’m not saying to ignore your gut though. If your gut tells you that someone is dangerous or bad for you, believe it. And, do what my above-mentioned friend did — move them out of your life (as best you can if you can’t completely do so because of children). Where I may ignore certain thoughts, I do heed my feelings and never suppress them. Your heart and gut are there for a reason. The mind, on the other hand, I can do without (ha, ha – most of the time). Also, dwelling on the wrong doings of others isn’t going to make the situation go away. In fact, dwelling on it only makes the situation a more real force in your life – for the worst. That’s why Jesus said, “Resist not evil.” This has been misunderstood and misinterpreted for centuries. But, think about it. The sins you struggle with in your head – hate, envy, anger, mistrust, judgement etc. only get stronger and a more formidable force in your life with your continued focus on them. What we focus on grows stronger. What we struggle with continues. It’s better to “Turn the other cheek” and walk in the other direction when those thoughts arise.
It also helps to cultivate an attitude of acceptance. People are going to do what they are going to do. There’s always going to be a little drama or trauma crop up here and there. It gives us contrast and definitely makes us appreciate the good times more. Trust that the liars and cheats will always get found out. There’s lots of truth to “What comes around, goes around.”
We can also judge all kinds of situations that come up wrongly. For instance, just because a blond-haired blue-eyed guy that often wore khakis and a light blue button-down did you wrong. It doesn’t mean that this new person, that dresses and looks similarly, is going to be an asshole too. Our minds frequently want to make our past our future, but if we withhold judgement the outcome can be very different.
I hope this has made a good case for cultivating your authentic state of inner peace by taming the mind. Gurus, that have achieved self-realization, say to completely ignore the mind and kill off the ego by eliminating all desire and fear. I’m an entrepreneur and thus have a lot of things I want to achieve, create and do. Thus, I know that that level of enlightenment will be impossible in this lifetime – too many desires here. But, this little practice of being conscious of and eliminating at least these three thought types, turning away from them as soon as they arise, has helped me tremendously. I hope this practice will result in a gargantuan amount of peace for you as it has for me — and so much more. Blessings!
Sandra M Bell