“All the things that truly matter—beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace—arise from beyond the mind.”
“If only my mind would give me a break.” “I’m constantly bombarded by thoughts.”
These are some of the frustrated statements I hear from people every day who are trying to find peace from their thoughts. And most of the time, they hold onto the wish that their thoughts would just stop.
Well, I’ll let you in on a little secret—you can’t make your thoughts stop. And the more you try to do that, the more you are actually focusing on the fact that you’re thinking.
It’s like trying not to think about a pink elephant. The more you try not to do something, the more you’re resisting the urge to do it. And the net effect for you is certainly not the peace that you’re looking for.
Freedom from the Pesky Mind
But don’t lose hope…because freedom from the power of your thinking is possible. I know because I speak from my own experience. I used to be tied up in knots with worry and anxiety. I spent so much time in my head trying to figure out how to navigate my life that I missed many opportunities.
And now I hardly worry at all, and I’m so much more at ease as I go with the flow. I see life as a precious gift instead of one gigantic threat that robs me of my happiness.
The key to this shift has been how I relate to my mind.
A Friendly Relationship with Your Thoughts
Forming a friendly relationship with your thoughts asks you to develop insights and have tools in your back pocket. You need to deeply understand how thinking works, and you need tools to work with your thoughts and the feelings that drive them.
Changing how you relate to thoughts takes focus and effort on your part, especially in the beginning. So abandon wishful thinking and the vague hope that things will improve.
Buckle down, commit, and make your peace your highest priority. And if you think that’s a selfish goal, think again (pun intended 🙂 ). Because once you’re less consumed in your mind, you’re more available to listen, engage, and fully live your lovely life.
We’ll start with four insights about thoughts.
#1: You are not your thoughts.
You existed long before you started thinking. There’s an innocent, original part of you that is truly alive, and this part has nothing to do with your thoughts. If you don’t know this, experiment. Pretend that you’re not your thoughts, and see if you’re still here. Get to know this “you” who is alive prior to your thoughts.
This insight means that your thoughts don’t define you. This might sound like a revolutionary statement, but it’s true. Your thoughts may tell you that you’re unworthy and limited, and they may tell you that you’ll be lost if you don’t worry incessantly. But without these beliefs, you’re still here—and you’re way more at peace.
#2: You can choose how you relate to your thoughts.
Since your thoughts are not who you are, you can choose how much attention you give them. You can live in the stories they tell you, or you can see them as mental chatter that has no meaning.
#3: You don’t have to buy into the content of your thoughts.
Really take a look at the content of your thoughts. If thinking is a problem for you, you will find that your thoughts are quite negative. They tell you to constantly be on guard so you can’t enjoy life. They fill you with doubt and concern. They make you believe you’re a fraction of your true magnificence. And they judge everyone and everything, including yourself, concluding that the reality of things as they are is not good enough.
Bringing in insight #2, you can choose how you relate to these thoughts. Do you want to magnify this content and make it the veil through which you see life? Or do you want to drop the veil and see things as they truly are?
#4: You can function very well in life without paying attention to thinking.
Most thinking is negative and useless. It’s just not needed. Sure you need thoughts to follow directions or plan a trip. But it is not your birthright to be stuck in ruminating thoughts that spin around and make you feel anxious.
When you don’t pay attention to thinking, you’re open to life as it is. You relate to others with your heart open instead of with fear of abandonment or disapproval. And you take things as they come without resisting them. Sound good?
Insights are often not enough to change your relationship with your thoughts. Thinking has a strong momentum to it because it has been reinforced for decades, so you need tools to apply in the moment when you realize you’ve been lost in thought.
As you commit to working with thoughts, you will get lost in them. Expect that to happen many times, and don’t think you’ve failed when you realize it.
See each realization that you’ve been thinking as an opportunity to do something different. Really, see it as a celebration, a “Yes,” a moment when the veil of thinking drops away and you have choices available to you.
Stop and breathe.
When you become aware that you’ve been thinking, stop and breathe. Take a big expansive inhale and breathe out. You’re home!
Shift attention away from thinking.
Notice that your attention has been glued to thoughts. Shift your attention away from the content of the thoughts. Lose interest in what they’re telling you because they’re probably not helping you be happy and at peace in the moment.
Instead, take a few conscious breaths, look around you and reconnect with your surroundings, feel your body, and notice that you’re present and alive. Your whole energy will shift.
Feel the sensations in your body.
While you’re completely in your head, it feels like you’re cut off from what’s happening in your body. One of the ways to short circuit thinking is to move your attention into your body to feel the sensations that are present in the moment.
If this practice is new to you, you’ll probably notice a lot of tension. When I speak with people who are caught in their minds and ask them how their body feels, across the board they tell me they feel tense and contracted.
These unexplored bodily sensations are the fuel for thinking. They are interpreted as signs of threat and fear. Leave them unnoticed, and the anxious stories will run amok. Breathe with these sensations and let them be, and your experience in the moment will be one of ease and peace.
Expand into presence.
The awareness that is always here in the background of any experience is free of thinking. Being aware is the steady, stable, ever-present space that exists whether thoughts are present or not. You can be aware of things such as thoughts, physical sensations, objects in a room, or other people. And you can be aware of the experience of being aware.
When you expand into presence, which is the experience of being aware, you’ll get a taste of this space that is free of thought. Rest your attention here, and you’ll notice great peace and relaxation.
Be open to fresh and new options.
You don’t need to rely on thinking to live. And if this insight is new to you, you may wonder what to do next. Here are some possibilities:
- Trust the truth of the moment and not your thoughts.
- Be open to what the moment brings to you.
- Instead of being motivated by fear and anxiety, ask, “What would love do?” or “How does life want to move me right now?”
- Be in wonder and “don’t know” mind, and see what feels right to you.
Persistence and Dedication
Often people will say to me that they’ve done what I suggest, but it hasn’t worked. This tells me that they are still harboring an expectation that the thoughts will disappear and they’ll never get hooked again.
Expect to get hooked by your thoughts! And take each moment as an opportunity for finding your way to peace. Be persistent and dedicated—because your happiness is at stake.
I eventually got to the point of not believing any of those pesky thoughts. They could come and visit me—and they do—but I’m not bothered by them. Literally, they float across the background of my awareness, and I don’t pay attention to them.
And now there’s space for so much joy, peace, and ease.
What About You?
Are you bothered by thoughts? Have you found freedom from them? I’d love to hear… And if you’re reading this by email, please click here to visit GailBrenner.com and to comment.
And if this post resonates with you, please share it with someone who needs to hear these words.
PS: This is the last week for the introductory special of Guided Meditation for Wholeness, Clarity, and Freedom. You’ll get three volumes for the price of two, which includes 32 different meditations. Please click here for all the details!