Calming your crazy mind
Even now, with a daily meditation and mindfulness practise I go through periods where my mind switches on this crazy switch and I seem to go into thought overload. Calming your crazy mind
Whether it is fear based, desire based, jealousy based, dragging old, like childhood old stories into my day to remind me of when I was a little shit to my family or friends, building unachievable plans or just the average pointless set of thoughts about life in general, all the mindfulness and meditation still does not clear the brain inbox. Calming your crazy mind
I used to get extremely frustrated by this experience, often blaming myself for not being able to control my own thoughts. This frustration would generally start of a new chain of thoughts, the “I am feeling anxious”, or “I am feeling stressed” or “I am an idiot” reaction which 1000% made my situation worse.
Now I know I am not the only one that has wished for calmness in their life. In fact, 75% of all attendees to my foundations course in the last 12 months put this or something similar (symptoms of a crazy mind) as a reason they are looking around for a solution that does not involve medication.
Rather than list through some things I think would help I wanted to run through some questions that I get on my courses around this ‘crazy mindedness”. These are some questions or statements I have been asked and my answers to them;
Why can’t I control my thoughts?
- Trying to control your thoughts is like trying to lasso a cloud and trying to calm your thoughts with more thoughts is like trying to put out a fire with petrol. Lose the belief that you need to control your thoughts altogether. Now this isn’t about just letting go of the reins completely, all you are going to start practising is acceptance. Start accepting this moment is not great, that this moment is a bit crazy. Whatever you are doing, just stop, and breathe. Practise acceptance for a few moments, maybe a minute or two.
Every time you get lost in thought just accept again you are overthinking, and pause and breathe again.
Accept that your struggling with thoughts. This acceptance starts that relaxation process. My wonderful teacher, Mingyur Rinpoche says, “Once you have realised your mind is racing and you are not letting go, just accept it, and this actually means you are letting go”.
Acceptance is the key. By trying to control them you are quite literally going into battle with your own thoughts, a battle you can’t win. You are battling your thoughts with more thoughts.
I do tend to turn on myself when I feel I have lost control, why?
We have built up a wonderfully habitual process of instantly beating ourselves up as soon as something in our life goes wrong. We were never taught self-compassion or how to just accept this moment for what it is, no matter how good or bad it is.
Our instincts tell us that something is wrong, and when we look and can’t find anything tangible we point the blame instantly on ourselves. In fact, what we don’t realise is that we are amazingly resilient beings, just running through a difficult period. Something that we all do. Now I am not trying to trivialise this in any way, I am just trying to point out that this suffering is true to us all.
Trying to improve this, is why the practise of meditation and the cultivation of mindfulness is so important.
The answer, just stop beating yourself up. How do you do that? First step, realise that you are. The very next time, just stop. Pause. At that point our natural tendency is to then beat ourselves up again for beating ourselves up. Calling ourselves stupid, pointless or a fool.
This time take a different approach. Pause, realise this is where you turn on yourself, put yourself down, this time will be different. In fact, this time you will tell yourself that this negativity does you no justice. I am amazing just the way I am.
Khenpo Kunga Rinpoche told me recently even if I can’t imagine it, even if I don’t truly believe it, you should ‘fake it’. Pema Chodron on one of her metta retreats also commented the same thing. What they mean is, even if right now you truly don’t believe it, which you probably won’t, that just by repeating these phrases enough, so goes the brain. I can tell you from my own experience, as someone who suffered with depression for a long period of my life, that this simple practise works. Even if you have to repeat it 1000 or more times till you begin to believe it, every time, is 1 step closer to freedom.
q) How do I use meditation & mindfulness to help with this crazy mind?
- The practise of meditation and mindfulness is an incredibly adaptable tool. Now don’t be mistaken, this doesn’t mean sitting for hours and hours on end practising meditation and cultivating awareness through mindfulness. There are plenty of scientific articles highlighting that even an 8-week program can cultivate peace of mind, reduction in anxiety and even pain. From my own personal experience, having completed the 8 week program several times, it is a wonderful introduction.
It wasn’t until I was practising almost daily that I began to quite literally feel the benefits. Cultivating a mindful approach to life.
Many, many meditations use breath and body as a focus point to centre or anchor yourself to the present moment, and this anchoring is the practise. This anchoring is the foundation of mindfulness and meditation and this anchoring eventually, rather than calming down the crazy mind, allows you to no longer fear it. You become the observer of thoughts, teaching yourself to step back rather than obsessing over them.
At the point, you realise you are in thought, you practise non-judgement. You throw out the anchor, stopping the thought train, and then without judging or criticising yourself, centre yourself back onto your breath or body, mantra or sound, whatever your preferred practise is. Start being gentle with yourself. Cultivate compassion not cruelty.
You need a meditational practise to truly cultivate this awareness, this mindfulness. Just like you need to practise to run, ride, write, jump and sing, meditation helps you practise this process of being lost in thought, and coming back to breath, being lost in thought and coming back to breath. The more you practise it, you quickly find mindfulness cultivates. You naturally, when mind starts racing, realise you are lost and come back to your breath, feel your body, start talking to yourself complimentarily.
q) I thought mindfulness and meditation were different?
- There are some incredibly well researched mindfulness programs like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, however I can only speak for the ones that I have been too and completed, all have meditation, and meditational practise at the heart of it. I appreciate the focus is on Mindfulness style Meditations and through that is mindful cultivation; I feel it is much simpler and easier to think of it as one practise. This practise involves an informal and formal element. The informal element being mindfulness, and the formal element being meditation. If you are not practising both you don’t have a practise.
Can you give me an example of someone you know that has used this practise in ‘calming your crazy mind’?
- Absolutely, and I suppose it would be too easy to quote myself.
There was a lady named Jane, she was 45 and decided to contact me as she was suffering with mild anxiety and was seeking a way to try and control her thoughts. She did not enjoy group situations, had practised a few times before, completed a course but it never had any traction, as she had trouble trying to integrate it into her life. She has a family and a full-time job and it was beginning to have an impact on both.
What did we do?
We had three 1 to 1 sessions where we sat a few meditations. We moved away from the focus on breath which seemed to be the crux of where the anxiety was coming from and focused on some visualisation and body focused meditations. We also looked at sound meditations and she now religiously listens to rolling thunderstorms or Tibetan bells. We discussed the thoughts, the way she engaged with the practise. We discussed my experiences and what I used to overcome them, which she said found quite reassuring. The ‘real life’ approach to the practise was comforting.
We discussed realistic time periods, and aimed at getting her practise up to 10 minutes per day (or most days) by the third 1 to 1.
We set expectations, that by the end of the week she was never going to be comparable to the Dalai Lama. We set realistic objectives for her practise, helping to realise that some days the meditation goes smoothly, and others can be difficult and frustrating.
We discussed bringing some simple mindfulness elements into her day to support her meditation and how these practises can be used to centre or anchor her thoughts. Just feeling her hand, or feet; listening to noises or the breeze. Wonderfully simple methods to bring you back to now.
After the 1 to 1’s Jane was confident enough to start meditating in a group. She started with the Foundations in Meditation and Mindfulness and was completing a follow up course designed for those looking at embedding or deepening their practise.
She followed the log sheet provided religiously, just a simple tick sheet.
She is now meditating at least 20 minutes daily and says she can feel in her body when she has missed a day. Her thoughts still rise, but she is learning every day how better to not engage with them.