“Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.” – Aesop
Mindfulness involves allowing yourself to fully open up to the present moment - all of it - with curiosity, acceptance, and nonjudgmental awareness. This is a simple concept that can be incredibly difficult to harness. The mind is generally filled with incessant “chatter” about our desires, fears, hopes, and mundane observations. Even when you feel as if you “aren’t thinking about anything,” you may notice that when you truly turn your focus inward toward the mind, there is a somewhat startling flurry of thoughts present.
Much of this mental chatter serves to take you away from the present moment and towards ruminations on the past or thoughts of the future. The mind has the capacity to serve your best interest and be your most trusted ally just as it has the capacity to become your own worst enemy, seemingly “luring” you into self-destructive behaviors. Imagine the mind as a wild horse that roams free on the plains, unencumbered by rules and constraints. When the mind is wild in this way, it follows its passions and does as it pleases. If your mind feels like a wild horse in this respect, you may have the experience of feeling that you are at the mercy of your thoughts or urges… that you are not really “in control” of your behaviors. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Mindfulness is a tool that allows you to begin to harness the wild nature of the mind and regain the deep-seated sense of equanimity that you are capable of experiencing. Imagine how difficult and how much practice must be devoted to taming a truly wild horse. You must first set your intention on taming that horse and create a realistic plan of action. Recognize the many years that this wild horse has been allowed to run wild. Realize that such an endeavor takes patience, commitment, and above all else: practice.
It is not uncommon for people to feel ruled by their passions, at the whim of their emotions, and at the mercy of their deepest fears. When the mind is allowed to run wild, it makes a great deal of sense to live in fear of what it may be capable of doing. You can begin to take your power back by recognizing that you (and only you) are capable of making real changes in how you allow your mind to impact your life. Once you make the firm decision that you are no longer willing to submit yourself to your mind’s every whim, every demand, and every “need,” you are ready to start taking true action toward changing your relationship with your mind.
Start to notice your thoughts more. When you have an anxiety-provoking thought about a dreaded outcome or worry over something you have done in the past, begin to say to yourself, “I notice myself having that familiar thought that makes me anxious.” When you step outside of your thoughts and choose to become less fused with them, you begin to recognize that the true you is the observer of those thoughts… you are not the thoughts themselves. You have the power to change your patterns and habits of ingrained thinking. When you begin to change your patterns of thinking, you will gradually notice your feelings and behaviors changing as well.
Notice how your mind may have a tendency to run wild with thoughts that take you away from being fully present to your life in this moment. Direct compassion towards your very human experience of feeling nervous, afraid, joyous, guilty, ashamed, angry, etc. Be kind towards yourself as you notice how wild your mind can be as it chatters away. Begin to notice how you often “suddenly” feel different when particular thoughts seem to “pop” into your mind. Notice how automatic this process can be. Begin to allow your mindful awareness of this process create a new experience that is marked by insight and understanding.
As you begin to notice the chatter of your wild mind more and more, you can slowly become more calm and focused in the present moment. Ultimately, you can reach the point where you will notice yourself having a thought or an urge to take action in some way and this mindful awareness will allow you enough space to have a deliberate and conscious response. When you notice your thoughts more clearly and are less fused to them, you will begin to see that it is up to you what you want to “do” with those thoughts.
Awareness of thoughts with mindfulness allows you to decide:
- How valid or based in reality is this thought? (Check the facts!)
- Is this thought providing me with useful information?
- What are the “pros” and “cons” of taking action on this thought?
- What would it be like to accept my experience of this thought and then let it go?
- How can I respond to this thought, rather than react to this thought?
Taming the wild horse of the mind through practicing mindfulness can result in engaging with your life and your important relationships in whole new ways. When you become more responsive to the present moment and aware of your thoughts, do not be surprised when other people in your life begin to notice real differences. Many people experience beginning to feel “more present” in the moment and “less reactive.” Remember to be patient during this process of transformation through the knowledge that genuine and lasting change takes time.
Mindfulness is a way to regain the ability to trust yourself to do what is in your best interest. The chattering mind often does not know what is “best” any more than a child who would like to eat candy for breakfast knows what is “best.” It is up to you to gain the tools necessary to make choices that move you closer to your goals, avoid self-sabotaging behaviors, and allow you to be aware of your own “part” in your relationships with others.
Mindfulness creates a newfound sense of self-awareness that allows you to see reality as it truly is, not as you “wish” to see it. The more that you avoid real or imagined pain, the more you ultimately prolong your suffering. Once you start to see things more clearly and fully, the practice of mindfulness becomes a natural way of being. What is one small step towards taming the wild horse of your mind that you are willing to take today? Start to look at your mind with gentle curiosity and allow yourself to notice all that you find.
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Featured image: facing the music by snappybex / CC BY 2.0