Struggling with your thoughts? You’re not alone

Category : General advice, Philosophy 8th October 2018

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Inside Yoga 244 (8/10/2018)

It is hard to believe that our own mind is actually our own mind if we consider that we struggle to control it and keep having unwanted thoughts? Yet it is our mind and we need to find ways of taming it!

This is what the practice of yoga is really all about, controlling the fluctuations of our mind, as the second line of the yoga sutras puts it, but this is easier said than done is what most of us think.
There is an aphorism from Buddhist teachings which I think helps to put this into perspective: it said that if we can concentrate and keep our mind 100 per cent focussed on the object at hand (in this case our breathing) and our mind still and quiet (that is, no distracting thoughts or impressions) for ONE minute, then we a possibly already a Buddha!
Anyone who practises meditation and yoga asanas (exercises) will understand this point and see that it is true. Perhaps we can become a Buddha but this is not the point because this message is meant to reassure the practitioner and encourage them to keep practising. We might not be a Buddha, but we put faith in the practice and its methods because it takes us closer to the ideal state than if we did nothing about our errant and wandering mind!
As for those stubborn and persistent thoughts which keep distracting us, there is not a special formula for them, but advice to keep focussing on the practice, and pushing aside unwanted thoughts. There are a few techniques used to help us drop repetitive and unwanted thoughts (for example, a problem is our life that is ever present): one suggestion is to picture the thought/issue/problem and say to yourself that this has been put into a pigeon-hole in your mind ready to be dealt with later; another piece of advice suggest being strong willed and saying “not NOW!” (I hasten to add you do this in your head, thinking and not shouting our loud as this might create further problems for yourself!).
The point about these recurrent thoughts is that they often arise when we are not in a position to deal with them. So if we cannot deal with them at the point when the thought arises, why do we indulge it! And keep indulging it? Perhaps we like suffering and struggling and feeling pain and anguish? To overcome stubborn recurring thoughts takes will power and practice, but these techniques can and do the trick of giving us a break from what distracts and troubles us.
When we are ready we can approach the situation and deal with it, because then if we have allowed ourselves to control our mind and have a break from our unwanted thoughts, we have the energy and clarity to deal with XYZ.
If we are able to transform what we see as a problem and change into a situation to deal with, we are then in a stronger place to deal with it – and hopefully it can be solved. And if not, consider this advice, if there is a solution why worry, and if there is no solution why worry!
We are our own worst enemies! We can give ourselves such a hard time, but why do this? Besides considering our masochistic tendencies, most of us do not want to suffer, so the practice of meditation helps us to resolve this: sometimes sitting still focussed on the breathing is all we need, but there will be times when a strong physical yoga asanas (exercises) practice will do the trick, by utilizing the physical activity we can become absorbed in the practice and by the end we will have noticed that we rarely thought about what troubles us. Revitalised and calmer, we can then get on with our day.
There is a good piece of advice given to meditators in a group situation: if we all had speech bubbles above our heads so everyone around us could read our thoughts, we would soon see that we are the same, chattering away, trying to do this practice; often giving ourselves a hard time that we are useless at the practice, or comparing thinking that everyone around us is so much better at this than me, and so forth. We are not alone.
At the start of this article I referred to our mind not being our mind; to explain this, think about this, if we had total control of our mind, that is, our mind is our mind completely, why do we get unwanted thoughts? We all get a thought that pops into our head, and we think, where did that come from or why did I think that? Karl Jung wrote about this, referring to the “shadow”, where dark unwanted thoughts lurk and pop up without warning!
In Buddhist meditation it refers to thoughts not being needed, clarity comes from clear consciousness, that is, pure awareness. Buddhism also refers to learning appropriate response: whereby we learn to see what thoughts are and to know which ones are dropped and the ones which are useful. We might think most are useful, but if we are honest with ourselves, most of our thoughts are not useful at all; they might be repetitious (so not needed since the first thought was registered), they might be irrelevant or simply wrong, whatever they are they are best ignored and dropped!
Meditation practice and yoga asanas practice is designed to allow for our own wobbles in focus, because it is through practice that we chip away at mistakes and gradually improve our practice, knowing that it is a lifelong journey of continually returning to clarity and stillness. Practice teaches us to understand our mind, to work with it, to control it, and to accept that it has its wobbles.
Like a surfer who rides the waves, staying on the board by being able to read the waves however big or small they might be, we learn to be a surfer of our own mind. Able to stay on our board regardless of the thoughts and however troubling they might be, we also learn to recognise our thoughts, especially the repeated ones, and learn to drop them, address them and move on, and carry on riding the waves of our thoughts. As meditation experience deepens we become familiar with our thoughts and who we are, and through this understanding we are able to cope with unwanted thoughts. The truth is that thoughts will always arise, so learning how to deal with them is the answer.
In our modern era of chattering social media and so forth, which can at times be out of control, learning to quieten the chatter of our own mind is not only relevant but important. My advice is go within and see for yourself.
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