An Original Thought
“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation, but you thoughts about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking.” — Eckhart Tolle
Thoughts come and go from the mind with a life of their own. One minute everything is fine, the next we’re trapped in a web of destruction. The thoughts can lead us down a trail of nothingness, overwhelming us. How does this happen and why do we allow ourselves to get caught up in the anxiety? It’s easy to become entangled in our thoughts because we experience them thousands of times a day. Thoughts pass through our mind for no reason, and if we cling to them, they can cause emotional upheaval. We give the most attention to thoughts related to our happiness and survival and therefore, situations that disrupt our homeostasis are likely to result in overthinking. However, overanalysing is a vicious cycle that doesn’t achieve much other than cause stress. Contemplate this: when was the last time you had an original thought? You may find it was weeks or months when you last encountered one. This is because we’re accustomed to reacting to outside events, so our thoughts reflect what’s taking place in reality. Overthinking can lead to stress because the thoughts can lead to destructive emotions which affect our long-term health. Thoughts are harmful if we overanalyse them, instead of allowing them to pass through the mind unattached.
We are notorious for recycling thoughts, so much that it blemishes the present moment. We’re not really present but caught up in our minds. Remember back to a time when you were engaged in a leisure activity such as: a sport, a hobby or spending time with friends. Recall how time passed by and you were absorbed in the present moment, not contemplating the future. It’s possible to experience more of these “flow moments” according to Hungarian psychology professor, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Being in the flow means to be in the zone. It involves being immersed in your activity, so your thoughts are present instead of stuck in the past or future. To avoid overanalysing thoughts, we must first recognise it and detach from being invested in them. We don’t get involved in the mental drama and allow the thoughts to flow through the mind, unopposed. I appreciate the meditation master Orgyen Chowang’s advice to practice meditation with our eyes open. He outlines three effective ways to bring our thoughts back to the present moment using the Pristine Mind meditation:
- Don’t follow the past.
- Don’t anticipate the future.
- Stay in the present moment.
So, if we are overanalysing thoughts, we simply draw our awareness to the habit. This slows our overactive mind, so we become aware of what is taking place. When driven by our impulses alone, we respond to what is taking place within us. We experience runaway thoughts and emotions and wonder how we got there. What if we acknowledged that we are overthinking and leaned away from the thoughts? By practicing this simple process, our mind becomes attuned to experiencing thoughts without them overwhelming us. Thoughts are like horses tied to a chariot and we are the driver. If they suddenly take off, there’s little we can do to slow the chariot. However, if we take the reins, we’re well equipped to steer it in the direction of our choosing. To appreciate the nature of our thoughts it’s important we carve out time to relax in silence. We’re inundated with noise in our modern lives and find it difficult to be alone in silence. Yet, at some point we must set aside our phones, tablets or TV to carry out other tasks. This means reconnecting with ourselves and the natural flow of the mind. It is author Jan Frazier who echoes this sentiment in The Freedom of Being: At Ease with What Is: “If you want to lead a more peaceful life, the primary focus should shift from external events to the inner, as a general practice,” avows
Many people say they have little time to meditate because their lives are busy. It’s these very people that meditation must become a priority. Just because we can’t see our thoughts doesn’t mean everything is fine. During a crisis, we may fall to pieces and find it difficult to regain peace and happiness. This is because we have allowed ourselves to get caught up in the stress cycle instead of seeing it coming. A good way to stop overanalysing thoughts is to move our body via exercise, even a brisk walk. This harmonises the mind and body so we become present, rather than dwell in the past or future.
Do Thoughts Cause Stress?
“Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, “What else could this mean?” ― Shannon L. Alder
Movement involves breathing which calms the body by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. When overanalysing thoughts, we’re caught in a sympathetic dominant state. This produces stress hormones that can be catabolic. These stress hormones have an adverse effect on our long-term health if we stay in this state for too long. The parasympathetic branch is the brake on our car whereas the sympathetic is the accelerator. If we accelerate for too long, we’re bound to run out of petrol and grind to a halt or worse, crash. The biggest movement in the Western world nowadays is mindfulness, which is bringing our thoughts to the forefront of our mind. The American psychologist and author Dr. Daniel Siegel devised a strategy to notice destructive thoughts he calls, name and tame. When toxic thoughts emerge such as fear or anger, we recognise them and name them silently. In doing so, we become mindful instead of unconscious to our thinking.
Otherwise, we are at the mercy of our thoughts dictating our bad moods. This is clear when our mood changes for no reason throughout the day. Upon closer examination, negative thoughts have been brewing in our mind for days and have pulled us into a negative emotional state. It is possible to find peace of mind with tranquil thoughts. However, it involves changing habits that no longer serve us. If we’re committed to reversing these habits, we can start by witnessing our thoughts more often. Then gradually, they will occupy less energy and we’ll find life pleasant, without the inner chaos that often accompanies it.