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. Thoughts can lead us down a trail of nothingness, sometimes 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. They pass through our mind for no reason, and if we cling to them, they cause emotional upheaval. We give the most attention to thoughts related to our happiness and survival. Therefore, situations that disrupt our homeostasis are likely to result in overthinking. Can you identify with this overthinking and overanalyses?
However, over-analysing is a vicious cycle that causes us 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 and our thoughts reflect what’s taking place out there. Overthinking can lead to stress because our thoughts can lead to disempowering emotions, which may affect our long-term health. Thoughts can become disruptive if we over-analyse them, instead of allowing them to pass through the mind unattached.
Here’s the thing: we tend to recycle our thoughts, to the degree it blemishes the present moment. We’re not really present, but caught up in our minds. For instance, recall a time when you were engaged in a leisure activity, such as a sport, a hobby, or spending time with friends. You may have noticed 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 tied to the present moment instead of being stuck in the past or future. To avoid over-analysing thoughts, we must first recognise we are doing so 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. This is why, 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 over-analysing thoughts, we simply draw our awareness to the habit. This slows our overactive mind, so we are aware of what is taking place. Many times, we experience runaway thoughts and emotions and wonder how we got there. What if we acknowledged we are overthinking and leaned away from the thoughts? By practising this simple process, our mind becomes attuned to experiencing thoughts without them overwhelming us. Expressed differently: 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. Have you noticed this where your thoughts seem to take on a life of their own? It can be an unpleasant experience to get caught up in.
However, if we take the reins, we can steer the chariot in the direction of our choosing. Therefore, if we want to appreciate the nature of our thoughts, we must make time to relax in silence. This is because we’re constantly 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 electronic devices because of their addictive nature. This means reconnecting with ourselves and the natural flow of the mind. Are you willing to decouple from your thoughts by creating a space between them? Yes, it will take some practice of mindfulness, but it will be worth it if you can attain inner peace.
People say they have little time to meditate because their lives are busy and I understand what it’s like being busy. However, it’s people like this that must make meditation 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 over-analysing thoughts is to move our body through exercise, even a brisk walk. This harmonises the mind and body so we become present, rather than dwell in the past or future. Is this something you can relate to? That is, using exercise or movement to settle your overactive mind?
Can 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
Exercise or movement involves breathing which calms the body by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. When over-analysing thoughts, we become caught in a sympathetic dominant state. This produces stress hormones that can have a catabolic effect on the body. These stress hormones have an adverse effect on our long-term health if we remain in this state for too long. To use an analogy, 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 still, crash. The biggest movement in the Western world nowadays is mindfulness, which involves bringing our thoughts to the forefront of our mind. For instance, the American clinical professor of psychiatry, Dr. Daniel Siegel, devised a strategy to notice destructive thoughts which he calls Name and Tame.
Therefore, when toxic thoughts emerge, such as fear or anger, we recognise them and name them silently in our minds. In doing so, we become mindful instead of unconscious of 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. Considering this, it is possible to find peace of mind with some practice on our part. 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.