No Longer Trapped In Your Thoughts
“Mindfulness is a way of befriending ourselves and our experience.” — Jon Kabat-Zinn
The single biggest impediment to happiness and fulfilment results from an impaired awareness. Many people scurry about their lives absorbed in their thoughts, processing memories of pain or expecting a future to arrive as they hope for. They are not alive to the present moment, but living in their thoughts. As a result, pain and suffering ensue because they believe their thoughts to be true. It is why awareness can help us recognise what is taking place beneath the surface of our thinking. It is the experience of consciousness functioning in the backdrop of our lives. Most people associate self-awareness with being awake or not asleep at the wheel of life. When we are awake, we are no longer trapped in our thoughts but recognise they come and go from our mind like ocean tides. How about you? Are you aware of what is simmering beneath the surface of your thoughts? How do you connect with your inner world of thoughts and emotions?
Programmed By Your Past Conditioning
“The best way to capture moments is to pay attention. This is how we cultivate mindfulness.”— Jon Kabat-Zinn
I’ve had the pleasure of coaching hundreds of people using mindfulness-based awareness. Most are corporate executives and CEOs who spend a lot of time processing thoughts to make effective decisions. Yet, thinking does not mean we know where our thoughts are leading us. Of those I work with, many of them notice the same theme throughout their minds. They feel as though their thoughts are thinking them instead of being in charge of their thoughts. Can you relate to this? This could be attributed to a lack of awareness of their thought process. It doesn’t mean one must be mindful of every thought. Instead, we notice the major themes of our thoughts throughout the day.
For instance, when I’m tired late in the evening or following strenuous exercise, I notice my thoughts are more scattered than usual. I am mindful not to make major decisions at those times, since I am not functioning at my best. Similarly, have you noticed how some people can push your buttons at certain times because they know you have a tendency to react? On the other hand, do you make impulsive decisions at certain times of the day when your willpower is depleted? Research shows that willpower depletion correlates with a drop in blood glucose in the brain. We are more likely to make mistakes at those times, particularly as it relates to nutritional choices.
It was the Greek philosopher Socrates who said: “Know yourself.” He was referring to knowing oneself at a deeper level, beyond your superficial likes and dislikes. Knowing yourself means being mindful of your thoughts before they become emotional reactions. Nowadays, the science is clear and many of our choices originate in our subconscious mind. However, they must have first passed through our conscious awareness; considered the gatekeeper of the mind. The subtleties of everyday life, such as the music we listen to, the people we associate with and what we read online, can leave a suggestible impression on our subconscious mind. In a sense, our subconscious mind and our actions result from our biology, past conditioning and our environment. Expressed differently: our environment has a lot to do with shaping our inner landscape of thoughts and emotions.
Meaning Making Machines
“Many people are alive, but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.” — Thích Nhất Hạnh
To cultivate mindfulness in everyday life, we ought to keep our thoughts in the present moment instead of ruminating on the past or future. An exercise I ask my coaching clients to do involves going for a walk in nature and notice what is taking place around them; without adding a narrative to it. This means not being distracted by their mobile phone device or other thoughts. Constantly processing thoughts inhibits mindfulness, yet awareness notices everything and registers it in our consciousness. I appreciate the quote from mindfulness teacher and psychotherapist Loch Kelly who writes: “One of the most important things to learn is how to separate awareness from thinking, and then we can see that thoughts and emotions are not the centre of who we are.”
This is why I ask my clients to turn off their mobile device when taking a walk in nature and avoid creating a mental dialogue of what they see. I tell them to experience their surroundings through their senses instead of trying to add meaning to it. For example, they might see other dog owners playing with their pets when they’re at the park. So, instead of creating a mental dialogue of what they see, they simply experience it through their nervous system. You see, our awareness recognises the gender of the individuals, their height, weight, facial expressions and a thousand other things, yet our mind interprets it to make sense of it. It is for this reason humans are meaning making machines. Whilst it’s good to make sense of our surroundings, we can become stuck processing our experiences instead of experiencing what we see.
Allow Your True Essence To Emerge
“Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are just that—thoughts.”— Allan Lokos
Another exercise I ask my clients to undertake is one you can try yourself. It involves closing your eyes and picturing a yellow lemon. What does the lemon look like? Is it big or small? Is it sitting on a table or floating in thin air? Can you taste, smell or notice anything else about the lemon? Simply observe what you see, yet avoid creating a mental dialogue of the scene. People find this exercise easier as a glimpse into practicing mindfulness, because when your eyes are closed, you can witness your thoughts without judging what you see. The more you practice these exercises, the more familiar you become exploring mindfulness in everyday life.
The benefits of mindfulness are many. A quick search online reveals the benefits of being mindfully aware instead of being caught up in your thoughts. You learn to decouple from your thinking mind and inhabit your body with receptivity, thus turning down the stress response. If we rely on our thoughts alone to experience life, the incessant thinking can eventually lead to stress, especially if we buy into the narrative our thoughts promote. However, becoming mindful of our thoughts helps us become more grounded in the present moment and experience the richness of life. After all, to cultivate mindfulness in everyday life requires turning down the volume on incessant thoughts and allow our true essence to emerge, as a wakeful being.