July 8, 2017

Our Thoughts Alter how we See Ourselves, but they Don’t Have to.

How to Free your Mind.

If I were to ask you to pause and take a moment to notice what is going on in your head right now, how likely would your answer be, “My mind is quiet, calm, and empty of thought, unbound by feeling and blissfully free?”

If you are thinking to yourself “very likely,” please contact me and tell me all your secrets, while the rest of us admit that this is not the case.

There is a term in yoga called “chitta vritti,” which translates to “monkey mind.” Essentially, this term acknowledges that our minds are jumping around all over the place. The thoughts that constantly move around inside our sweet little heads are meant to be there. In any moment, there is always something that attracts the mind.

The mind is complex. It is capable of learning facts and knowledge through study, observation, and experience. It keeps us safe, alerting the body to spring into action whenever it notices danger. It has short and long-term memory. It associates senses and emotions with experience, making life rich and full of meaning. It can create dreams and imagine all sorts of things.

But it can also tell stories and lead us to misconceptions. You see, everything we do—physical, mental, or verbal—is stored in the mind in the form of subtle impressions. But it’s often difficult to identify what these impressions of our memories actually are—let alone begin to understand them and then to control our response.

When we take a moment to pause, often we can feel overwhelmed by the activity, the fullness of the mind. We quickly feel we are not able to quiet the mind or meditate because our minds are just too active. Quieting the mind seems to be an impossible feat that, quite frankly, we just don’t have time to master, let alone attempt.

But what if we tried for just a moment?

Find a comfortable seat and invite yourself to close your eyes and come to your breath. Just notice the breath moving in and out of your body. Focus your mind on the breath, but also notice what else comes up. Allow the mind to move, and simply bring attention back to the breath whenever you notice you’ve strayed.

Set a timer and try to do this for just five minutes.

Afterward, reflect on what came up in the thoughts between the moments of focus on the breath. This can lead to insight into mental habits, thought patterns, stories about ourselves and the world we live in that are quite telling and provide avenues of self-discovery that otherwise may not have surfaced.

However, what the mind draws to awareness is also what we must practice letting go of. We must work to dissolve attachment to the thoughts and feelings that arise because this is the very stuff that, while providing clarity on certain aspects of ourselves, also limit our ability to completely know our true self.

Between knowledge, memory, and thought, there is a lot of activity in the mind that can really bind us—namely, our impressions and ideas about ourselves and the world we live in. These can slowly lead us astray from the attuned connection to self that we seek. In some ways, our own thoughts make self-awareness (and more so, self-understanding) even more confusing and difficult to truly access.

Limited by perception, we start to think and see the world and ourselves in a certain way—a way that might not take into account the full picture.

A lot of the work in yoga is about being aware of thoughts and what shows up in the body and mind as we tune in. However, even more of the work should then be on dissolving these very things in order to allow the process of letting go to be one that reveals the true undercurrent of the mind from the space of the soul.

Now you might be asking, “How the heck do I know when I’m tuned into my soul?” Well, the short answer is practice. But here are some other ideas.

Tune in and accept the process. Allow the mind to move. Begin to learn the tricks of the mind by simply paying attention and noticing what comes up.

Become a witness to the mind. Sit back and watch it work. Enjoy the show! It may be becoming clear that although we function through the work of the mind, we are not in fact limited by it.

Begin to establish which thoughts seem useful and deeply resonate as being “true.” Use self-reflection on experiences, your senses, and your gut as a means of sifting through the chaos of the mind in order to find the pieces that truly “fit.”

Remember our perceptions and therefore our thoughts can be misconceived. Seeing things the way they truly are often involves considering all possibilities for what reality actually might be.

Explore deep, mindful relaxation by tending to the process of becoming thoughtless. Drop into the space of the body or heart and allow these parts of yourself to focus the mind. Don’t be alarmed if the mind still wanders; it’s the intention and practice of deeply relaxing that will provide space for the mind to settle and eventually clear.

Dissolve memories. Begin to understand that although memories can be wonderful, they can also be harmful. Provide space within yourself by allowing memories to just be. Do not try and label them or attach meaning to them. Do not define yourself by them, for in reality, over time, even the fondest of memories that we do not want to forget become skewed, slightly altered as life continues to shape our experience.

So, if I were to ask you again if you are able to experience a mind that is blissfully free, would you have a different answer than before? I hope so.

By being able to understand and then study the ways of the mind, we develop the awareness that will ultimately allow us to see our true nature: separate from the mind.

The mind is free to be, and so are you.

When we become caught in our thoughts, we limit what we are capable of. If we allow the mind to move and do not become attached, we can experience a true sense of freedom, clarity, and deep connection to our real self.

In closing, remember that there is peace and bliss within the storm; it’s all through the eye of the beholder. Through sustained awareness of this truth, all else will be put at ease. Enjoy the ride!

“Through sustained practice and the cultivation of dispassion, these fluctuations of the mind can be stilled.” ~ Pantanjali~


Author: Robyn Thomas
Image: Ioana Casapu/Unsplash
Editor: Callie Rushton
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Lieselle Davidson

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