Think about a time that you were involved in thought. You are engulfed in that thought. The moment that thought sparked in your mind it gave birth to a series of other thoughts. From there on, you are fabricating your thoughts one after the other; you are playing out scenarios, and it’s happening in sequential order. You are the producer, director and the actor in this mental action movie! During the thoughts, everything around you have blurred away. Yes, you still see with your eyes, but that input doesn’t truly register with you. Yes, you hear the sounds, but your attention is on your thoughts. So, the sounds around you don’t register, either. You are not in oblivion, but in your own world. And for this moment, however long it may be, this is your world.
You are living on planet earth with 8 billion other people, yet in an instant you have managed to create your little terrestrial plain. Well-done and Congratulations!
Our thoughts create our world. Sometime the mind drifts and attaches to a past experience. Then either we re-live that moment or we re-create that past event to what we think it should have been.
Our emotional and ideological thoughts create who we think we are and what we think is going on. Sometime We react and respond to ourselves when we live in our ‘thought world.’
Here is something to ponder. A most recent (July 2020) study at Queen's University in Canada showed that an individual will have more than 6,000 thoughts in a single day. When you divide that number by 24 and then by 60, that leads us to 4 thoughts a minute.
That means most of our time is spent responding to and in a fictitious world. And you thought JRR Tolkien or JK Rawlins write fantasy!
When we become insulated in our thoughts, we lose sight of the importance of our real wants and needs. We lose the connection with reality. When we are embroiled in our thoughts, we tend to think in polarities.
This is why we say, "Whether we think we can or cannot, we are right.”
Therefore, true wisdom is knowing your thoughts and understanding what is happening in those thoughts. That is a big part of knowing yourself! At any given moment, your mindset is an amalgamation of your thoughts at that time.
This means you can spend extended time in isolation and not feel lonely. Vice versa! You can be among a congregation, a large group of friends and still feel absolutely lonely.
Just like the ebbs and rise of the wave lowers and lifts a ship, your thoughts change your view of yourself and your world… continually. In a matter of speaking, we are living in a ‘mental world’ of chaos and order. This is how life happens.
Religion also emphasizes disciplined minds.
The best known and most widely read Buddhist scriptures, Dhammapada, have a few verses that pertain to the importance of the behavior of the mind.
Chapter 3, Mind. Verse 33: The Wise Person Straightens The Mind
Mind agitated, wavering,
hard to guard and hard to check,
one of wisdom renders straight
as arrow-maker a shaft.
Meaning, just as the arrow maker straightens an arrow shaft, even so the discerning man straightens his mind.
Chapter 3, Mind. Verse 35. Restrained Mind Leads To Happiness
The mind is very hard to check
and swift, it falls on what it wants.
The training of the mind is good,
a mind so tamed brings happiness.
Christianity encourages a proper mind.
2 Timothy 1:7
For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.
Being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
2 Corinthians 4:
"In their earthly souls they seek riches, fame, a long life and all the things of this world. Their eyes have been closed that they cannot see, their ears stopped up that they cannot hear, and their minds made such that they do not want to understand.
By your patience possess your souls.
Your soul is your thoughts!
Thoughts are addictive. If the thoughts become intrusive, they will cause anguish and get in the way of your daily life.
When you learn to see yourself separate from your thoughts, John 8:32,
"If you know the truth, the truth will make you free."
The good news is that there is an antidote for the addictive mind! That solution lies in the medium between chaos and order or between the ebb and rise. That medium is your conscience. A more familiar expression would be Mindfulness!
Mindfulness is simply the ability to observe and interpret our thoughts. And to do so, you must live in the present; real world! This doesn’t happen naturally. Naturally, you are supposed to react to your thoughts. Therefore, learning how to observe and interpret thoughts is a behavioral change. An acquired habit. A habit that is extremely important to our successful or meaningful life.
Let me share a personal story. On a Thursday, my son had his first live marching band performance for KSU. I planned to be at the field around 530 pm that afternoon. So, I left right after work (430pm). KSU is about 40 min from work. I had a ticket to a parking lot close to the field.
The traffic is high driving into Kennesaw, still I managed to arrive at KSU without an issue. But then I missed the turn to the parking lot. The Waze app redirected me through a different route, and just at that time the police were blocking some of those roads, including the main road that I needed to be on. I was in an unfamiliar place. Needless to say, not only was I lost, I was becoming frustrated. Soon, the frustration began to turn to anger. Commonly, anger show up as banging on the steering wheel, honking, erratic lane changes, yelling at people…However, on that day, instead of reacting to the thoughts of anger, I began to observe anger rising in me. It was erupting in different forms in my mind. Witnessing the angry thoughts in me was akin to an out-of-body experience. Perhaps it was like rubbernecking at an accident on the side of the road. I’m driving by, but not a part of the accident. Maybe it was like staring at boiling hot water. I see the bubbles popping up and bursting. But I’m not the hot water. I was just the observer. Sometimes I felt, I’m being dragged into the situation yet, somehow, I managed to stay off that mental brawl. An hour later I found a way to get to the parking lot. When I got out of the car at the parking lot, I was as peaceful as when I left work.
How did I acquire the ability to observe my thought? How did my brain realize when to stay off the angry thoughts?
As I previously mentioned, Mindfulness is a learned habit. Like everything else, we learn by immersion. So, let’s do an exercise.
You can do this by sitting down or standing up.
Stretch your arms to the side. Now bring them up gently, in a circular motion until the fingers on each hand touch each other. Now, bring your fingers and attention to the crown of the head. Feel for any sensations. If there are no sensations, that’s ok. Now, bring that attention down, in a scanning manner, slowly down to the forehead…to the eyes…feel for any sensations; if there is none that’s OK. Continue to the nose. You will notice your breath. Acknowledge it and move to the lips, to the chin, to the shoulders, move to the chest. Feel the chest rise and fall. (If you wish you may scan all the way down to your toes.) Now bring the scan back up to the shoulders, neck, chin, lips, nose…feel the breath and acknowledge it…eyes, forehead and back to the crown of your head. Stay there for a few seconds. The mind may try to wonder during the scanning. If it does, acknowledge it and bring it back.
Now move your attention to your breath. You are observing the breath going out and coming back in. You feel the sensation at the rim of the nose. Continue to focus on the directions of the flow. Breathe naturally. Don’t force the breath. Your mind will leech on to an erratic thought and meander. Acknowledge the distraction and bring the attention back to the air flow. You may keep your eyes closed or open. If your eyes are open, I suggest staring at a blank wall. Observe the natural breath for about 10 min.
This simple exercise is an effective way to live in the present. By living in the present, you teach yourself to observe events happening within you in real time. It trains your mind to be watchful or be Mindful.