Updated: Jul 12, 2019
Have you ever made plans for yourself that end up going horribly wrong? It is easy to believe that we may have made the wrong decision, or taken a wrong turn, or somehow just really messed things up. Life has a funny way of showing up to teach us the things that we need to learn. Is it possible that you've been missing the message all along? Learn how our thoughts & perceptions shape our current reality, and what you can do to start making things go RIGHT!
For the better part of my adult life, things have been going wrong. I've dated the wrong people, invested in some really bad friendships, made some very poor financial decisions, I've even been on the verge of being homeless & starving. It started to occur to me that there was a common theme woven throughout all of these perceivable wrongs. I believed that I was a victim of my circumstances.
“All that we are is a result of what we have thought.” - Buddha
These days we are incredibly plugged in to the world around us. In an instant we can check the weather in any part of the world, relevant news stories, social gossip and much, much more. We are able to use technology to communicate with people all over the world. And as "plugged in" as we appear to be, we are growing more & more distant from our inner worlds.
Call me crazy, but I know for a fact that we all talk to ourselves. There is a mental chatter that is happening constantly behind the scenes while our bodies are on autopilot accomplishing all of the things... driving, work, small talk, etc. - most of which can happen without any real presence. Ever find yourself saying something along the lines of "I'm driving myself crazy!" This statement would imply that there are 2 parts of us. There is the "I" that is driving the "Self" crazy. Let that sink in for a moment. If there are in fact these 2 parts of ourselves, it means that 1 of them is observing the other. Let's take this a step further. Have you ever been in the heat of a moment and while you are in the process of overreacting, a still small voice inside you whispers "you really shouldn't say that... no don't do that..." It's like there is this better part of us buried deep, deep inside and if it would only come closer to the surface we may be able to stop ourselves from a bad reaction in a heated moment.
Well - I am here to tell you that the still, small voice inside you is presence/consciousness/spirit and there are actually things that we can do to strengthen our awareness of it within ourselves. This is where mindfulness comes into play.
The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
A mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
Mindfulness is our ability to be fully aware of and present to the current moment. Ever watch an animal in nature? They are so perfectly in tune with their surroundings. Their life literally depends on them being present 100% of the time. An animal of prey could be snatched up for a hunters dinner, or a hunter could miss it's opportune moment if they allowed distraction to plague them. With all of the drones & satellites we use to predict the weather, birds and animals are at higher ground well before a natural disaster makes an appearance on our weather tech. Meanwhile, us humans often get distracted by things like perceptions, emotions, and feelings. We allow an emotion to overcome us and influence the way we speak & act in the moment - when this happens, we are not present because we have identified with the emotion vs. our Self. It can be something as simple as starting our morning off on the "wrong foot" - when we've been knocked out of presence and we continue on this way throughout the day, we can almost bet the whole day is a write off filled with a series of unfortunate events.
How To Strengthen Your Mindfulness Muscle:
1. Connect With Your Breath: If you practice Yoga or Meditation, you will be familiar with this concept. Bringing your awareness to an otherwise autonomic action. Breathing happens without our needing to remind the brain to send the signal to the lungs to inhale or exhale. The body operates under it's own intelligence. In Yoga, we say that "where the mind goes, the energy follows." If we take that sentiment literally, you can see how we get completely swept away by emotion. What if, instead of allowing the mind to call the shots, we directed it to a more intentional place of focus. It can be as simple as recognizing an unpleasant emotion arising in you, and instead of allowing the mind to indulge in the emotion, you direct it to the breath allowing the emotion to exist, without needing to react to it. It's like resisting the urge to scratch an itch; eventually it goes away (which is also a very interesting practice). Bringing awareness to the breath pulls you into the present moment. The subconscious mind is constantly wanting to replay the past, or worry about the future, both of which take us out of the present moment. Reconnecting to your breath is an amazing way to bring you back into your body and keep you grounded in the here and now, whether it is good, bad, or ugly.
2. Daily Check In's: It is usually not until the end of the day when someone asks us "How was your day?" and we begin to recount the events of the day. But what if, instead of waiting for someone to ask, we checked in with our Self daily: How am I doing? Where are my thoughts at? Have I been breathing deeply? What do I need in this moment? How are my emotions? Have I been honoring my boundaries? Is there anything I am suppressing that needs to be expressed? When we become our own best friend, we start showing up for ourselves as an advocate for our highest good rather than the condescending perfectionist who finds fault with everything.
3. Become a Mental Gatekeeper: This one takes a great deal of dedication, but is well worth the effort and truly has the potential to change your life in the most profound ways. To be a gatekeeper of your thoughts means that you decide, by being aware, which thoughts you will allow to enter your mind and which thoughts will be discarded at first detection. When I first began this practice I was in the depths of one of many depressions. I became aware, with this practice, that I was quite possibly the most negative person I knew and what was scary about that is that I don't think there was a single person I knew who would have described me this way. I was a closet negative thinker. Outwardly positive, inwardly destructive. This practice shook me to my core and to take it a step further, I challenged myself to replace every single negative thought I could catch with 3 positives in direct relation to the initial thought. Sort of like finding 3 silver linings to the same bad situation. This was incredibly challenging, but it taught me to be conscious and it will do the same for you if you commit to it. Full disclosure - this mental exercise can be incredibly confronting, but the benefits far surpass the discomfort. Not only will this practice bring awareness to your natural internal state of being, but it will reveal to you that you actually have the power to change your mind in every single circumstance.
Just like anything, we have to start somewhere. There are so many moments where we waste our precious thoughts on things like worry, gossip, drama, or things that simply don't matter in the grand scheme of becoming a better person. I especially like to utilize the first moments upon waking and the last moments before sleeping to practice things like gratitude and visualization. When you begin to truly understand the magnitude of your mind; that is your thoughts, beliefs and emotions, you will not want to waste a single thought. Many philosophers leave us with breadcrumbs alluding to the idea that we are what we think. Taking this literally can be helpful motivation as you embark on your journey to get your mind right.