While on retreat I am blessed with the opportunity to be surrounded by individuals who share my values and beliefs. They have the same understanding that true happiness grows when we create the right conditions. These conditions are often not what is prioritized in mainstream society. It is much easier for me to get in touch with my truth while immersed in a community that shares my values. The difficulty lies in maintaining that truth while engaging in a society that does not.
Often we experience self doubt and worry because our personal goals and priorities do not match those of mainstream thought. Instead of listening to ourselves we allow the opinions of others to create a wedge between us and our own truth. Society has many values that water the wrong seeds in us. We are told that security comes from obtaining more; more wealth, more recognition, more possessions, more work, more success. But while searching for more we lose site of what truly brings us peace.
Currently I am struggling with the collective belief on what it looks like to be successful versus content. I can feel the pull of society’s voice telling me that I shouldn’t prioritize well-being over financial security. My self-doubt and worry rises when I start to buy into values that aren’t my own. Peace comes when I recognize the difference between my priorities and those of others. As I weed out the voices that don’t belong to me, I begin to trust my own decisions.
I encourage you to take a few moments every day to look into your own values and priorities. What is it that you would like to cultivate? Are the things you’re seeking really the things that will bring you true happiness? Which desires are bringing you peace and which ones are planting seeds of doubt and worry?
Taking oneself too seriously leads to a very unhappy mind. It is better to take a playful approach to self observation giving some leeway to our thoughts and perceptions. They aren’t so important and they won’t last very long. Before grasping on to one and placing it as a high priority, give it some room. Watch it from a distance and observe how it transforms. Most likely, it will continue on its merry way without you having to engage with it at all.
Let me give you a more solid example. This week I kept having thoughts about how important it was for me to have people come to a mindfulness class that I was hosting. When I would engage with the thought believing that it was valid and in need of attention, I could feel my stress rising. I could see it start to latch onto my ego telling me stories about my self worth dropping if no one came. It took me down a very negative rabbit hole in which I thoroughly believed that I had to have people attend my class.
I was the only one giving validity to this idea and making it important. As soon as I released the idea and observed it with indifference, I was able to see how trivial it was. I didn’t need to take myself or this idea so seriously. And then every time the thought came up I chuckled a little at my own concept of self importance, “silly me this is not that big of a deal.” Having this thought did nothing to improve my situation. It did not attract more people to my class or make me more confident. It simply gave me an unhappy mind.
-Find a comfortable position and follow your breath for as long as it takes to become grounded
-Scan your body and observe how it is feeling today
-Scan your mind and identify your current mental state
-Ask yourself what idea you are prioritizing right now
-Ask yourself if you taking that thought or idea seriously is helping or harming you
-Ask yourself what validity the thought actually has
-See if you can create some space from the thought
-See how the thought transforms once you allow it room to breathe
-Observe how you feel when you don’t give that thought so much importance
-Once you come out of meditation be aware of how often that thought comes up. See if you can observe it with a playful attitude allowing it to lose some of its power.
It is easy to stay connected with our body when it is healthy and performing in a way that pleases us. However, if our body is sick or hurting, we have a tendency to separate ourselves from our physical form. We say mean things about our body and accuse it of not living up to our standards. Our relationship with the body becomes a me against it battle; my body is fighting me.
This is an absurd but all too real thought pattern. How can we be separate from our physical form. Our body and sense impressions are a large part of why we can experience life. Even if they aren’t functioning properly, they are still our connection between self and world. To divide the body from the “I” is simply impossible. So why do we do it?
It can be easier to disconnect from a suffering body because it allows us to deny the fragility of our physical form. We may feel a sense of safety when removed from the aches and pains that the body is vulnerable to. My body hurts but I’m just fine. Too bad my body can’t keep up with me. These thoughts may help the ego to stay intact while the body is failing but they don’t help you to heal.
Healing takes place when mind and body remain connected. The body is not an inanimate object that we can use up and then throw away. It’s not a car that we can take into the shop for others to repair and eventually trade in for a newer model. Our body is a reflection of our internal state. It is the physical evidence of how we take care of our mind and spirit. If the body is failing it is a sign that we need to come home and take care of the mind.
Illness is not something to fight against. It is an opportunity to develop self compassion and love. If we start a battle against our ailing body all we are doing is tearing ourselves apart. Make peace with your body and ask it what it really needs to be happy. A happy body is a happy mind.
Neuroplasticity is proving the importance of having a mindfulness practice. The scientific research is bringing to life the belief of mind over matter. We are no longer limited by an unchanging mind that carries genetic and circumstantial mental troubles forever. As Jonah Lehrer, a neuroscientist and writer, states, “Our DNA makes us without determining us. We can always impose our will onto our biology.”
For so long medicine has diagnosed people with mental illnesses or learning disorders that make them believe that’s who they are. They identify with the diagnosis and turn into the person the disorder tells them they are. This attitude prevents them from rising above their troubles. Barbara Arrowsmith-Young was born with several learning disabilities which left her unable to understand complex concepts in language, writing and reading backwards, and spatially unaware. Unsatisfied with the techniques that only taught her how to survive by avoiding tasks that were difficult for her, she developed exercises that forced her to delve into her deficiencies. With years of effort, she healed herself of her learning disabilities.
We do not have to accept the labels put on us by modern medicine forever. If you don’t like what a diagnosis has labeled you as, there are ways to rise above it. In 1998 it was finally accepted that regrowth occurs in the neurons in the brain which proves what George Eliot wrote in his book Middle March, “The mind is not cut in marble, it’s not something solid and unalterable. It is something living and changing.”
Mindfulness will not cure all of your ailments but it will start opening you to the possibilities of your mind. It will help you to observe how the outside world is affecting your internal one allowing you to pick and choose what you let in or let go. It will slowly help you to turn your brain into your best friend.
“Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”-Corrie ten Boom
When I read this quote in my mindfulness class at school one of my students grimaced and winced while shaking his head. I could see that he was upset so I asked him what was bothering him.
“It’s just that I don’t agree with that quote.” When I asked him why, he said that without worry he wouldn’t be motivated to accomplish most of what he needed to. He said that worry kept him moving forward. It really surprised me that someone would be so attached to their worrying that they would become offended when asked to reduce it. I asked him to reflect on what aspect of his worry was helping him versus harming him. We finally came to the conclusion that recognizing importance was helpful but that negative fortune telling and problem prediction were not.
Motivation to take action and worry are not the same thing. Worry is the judgmental defeatist self talk that tells you everything that could go wrong and all the reasons you might fail. Motivation is recognizing why the event is important and putting into action constructive steps towards accomplishing it. Worry drains you of the energy you need to accomplish something while motivation replenishes it.
When you have something important to accomplish remember to keep your self talk positive. Develop a realistic plan and envision good outcomes. Avoid mulling over all of the risks and obstacles. You can recognize that they are there without allowing them to take over the brain space needed to move forward. Keep the motivation and drop the worry.
As the Dalai Lama XIV says, “If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”