“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”
- Gautama Buddha
What were your first thoughts when you read the title of this article? Disbelief or confused? But, it is true; our mind lives. This is something we wouldn’t even have given a thought, but, shockingly enough, it has one. And, a pretty complex structure too whose complexity amazes us as we go deeper and deeper. In fact, this complex structure is what makes us experience all those emotions, feelings, and thoughts. And, like a maze we could get trapped in, desperately searching for a way out!
But, our life unveils itself before our eyes, at this very moment, giving us a chance to explore it, feel it, and appreciate it. We only need to step outside. Not just in the physical sense! When we are trapped, our emotions and thoughts wander through the maze in an attempt to find us, irrespective of wherever we are. But, we can learn not to be afraid of the wandering shadows. We can also learn to exit the maze and set us and our thoughts and emotions free.
However, in the real life, we keep wailing about our past or worrying about our future. But, the truth is something else! We don’t see what is outside; we don’t see what’s happening now. We do not see the cherry blossoms blooming but continue wandering deeper and deeper into the maze called our mind.
Our mind is always filled with those unwanted and unpleasant thoughts that do not serve us in any way. If you have ever paid attention to your thoughts, you would have noticed that these thoughts always strike us in the wrong moment, when we are preparing ourselves to get into bed or are playing with our kids. It can be an incident from work, like in my case, or a fight with your spouse. It doesn’t matter; our mind still tends to cling to the past, filling our thoughts and emotions with those feelings and preventing us from savoring the present moment. We miss countless moments of joy and happiness. We are so pre-occupied in the past or future that these moments just fly past us unnoticed. They smile at us, even shout, but we are still stuck in our worries and anger.
Interestingly, science offers some interesting explanation for the way our mind work. Our brain has three different parts that must work harmoniously to help us savor the present moment. But, when there is a disharmony among these three, trouble slowly starts lifting its ugly head. This is best explained with the guard puppy analogy of Bobbi Allen. Bobbi is the Bobbi is the “director of Mindfulness in Education (based in NSW, Australia), and practices Mindfulness, the way of living in the moment, for 35 years. She uses three different puppets - a puppy, an elephant and an owl – when explaining the way our minds work to children of all the ages.
The first one is a small part called the Amygdala which is just similar to our puppy – the guard. Its duty is to shield us from the dangers that are supposed to be hiding out there, ready to launch an attack on us when the right time arrives. It helped us survive for millions of years. But sadly, ours doesn’t know what a true danger means! Since it is a puppy, it is learning and hence, at times, gets confused. It starts barking thinking we are in danger when silly thoughts or worries pop up.
And, as this little, naughty puppy starts barking, it disrupts the normal functioning of our memory elephant – the hippocampus! It becomes so confused and is overwhelmed by emotions that it fails to memorize what and who is right and wrong and finally it forgets. This is where our Wise Owl – the pre-frontal cortex comes to our rescue. It helps us to think clearly, focus accurately, solve problems, and even calm down the barking guard puppy. It helps us to see there is no danger; it also uses it differentiating power and knowledge to pacify our emotional elephant.
And, when we become calm and focused, the unwanted thoughts that had been troubling us start melting away. We can be in the now again, be there, and enjoy whatever we do…
Luckily we can help the owl doing its job and train our mind also. The first step to change is being aware of what happens in our heads. We can learn that with an exercise called “Observe our mind.”
Through this simple exercise, you will start looking into your mind to see what it is doing. It will give you a chance to experience what actually is happening within you. You do not have to do it for long periods; even a couple of seconds would do the job. The idea behind this exercise is to help you see where thoughts come from, when they come and why. After some time, you’ll be able to identify patterns and with this knowledge you will be able to regain your control over your mind.
Observe our mind silently as a layman without thinking about the nature of your thoughts or judging them while doing this exercise.
Do this for just 5 minutes. You’ll get an extra boost when you write your observations down on paper, yes real pen and paper!
You can practice this exercise any time and at any place of your choice. Start practicing for a couple of seconds, eventually moving into longer periods. Nevertheless, keep in mind that practice is the key.
You will be fascinated by the way your mind is traveling. It is like a monkey hopping from one branch to another, without any rest. As a result, we feel that we are always trying to achieve something, but it constantly eludes us!
“What matters is to live in the present, live now, for every moment is now. It is your thoughts and acts of the moment that create your future. The outline of your future path already exists, for you created its pattern by your past, “ said Sai Baba, a leading spiritual Guru from India.
Just remember on your journey:
With this in mind, you can take your first step in your journey towards re-establishing the connection with your mind. I know that feel like a stranger here, but I’ve been there already! Take a deep breath and take the first step!
“Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don’t complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief, and jealousy. Don’t bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake Up and Live!”, goes the words of Bob Marley.
Published in MinfulDevMag issue #4 – Back to Issue TOC