“Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.”
~Jose Ortega y Gassett
“Oh, what I would do to shut down my mind.” These are the words from an email I received from one of our readers here at A Flourishing Life. “I long for peace and serenity amidst the chaos of my life, ” she continues, “yet I am so quickly sucked back into believing I need to control everything. I am overcome by expectations and fears…and a whole lot of self-doubt.”
So here is the problem: You want to experience your life in a more peaceful way, but the endless cascade of thoughts seems to be running the show. You are left feeling like a victim, out of control, and longing for the contentment that slips so easily from your grasp.
You Can’t Stop Thoughts
If you’ve tried to stop your thoughts, you know by now that you have taken on a virtually impossible task. Attempting to stop thoughts is like trying not to think of a pink elephant. If you are thinking them or trying not to think them, either way they are still receiving your attention. And they can surge with a vengeance.
Here’s the good news: you don’t need to spend one more second trying to stem the flow of thoughts. Why? Because you can’t.
And more good news: There is one very important action you can take that will open the doorway to greater peace.
What to Do With Thoughts
If your mind has gone wild and you are disturbed by your thoughts, it’s time to get intelligent. Be wise, be practical, and see through to the truth of your experience.
Let’s start by recognizing that when you are troubled by thoughts, there are two things going on. First, a thought arises in your mind. And, second, you pay attention to it.
This understanding offers a very interesting possibility. Remember that your attention is like food. What you give it to is what will thrive. What if thoughts could appear without being fed by your attention.
Many thoughts pass through your mind in the course of the day that don’t trouble you. Why? Because you aren’t interested in them. They come…they go…no problem.
But some thoughts are sticky, as you well know. They beg for your attention, and you comply. They are alive in you precisely because you have given them attention. You think them over and over. You embellish them with:
- Fears – “Oh, no!”
- What if…
- Why me
- She should have or shouldn’t have
- If only…
Well, it’s time for you to take back control. And the control that you have available to you is to get uninterested in your thoughts.
How to do this? You must – in your mind, heart, body, and soul – be finished with the suffering that your mind brings to your life. With every cell of your being, say, “No more!”
Useful or Not?
When a thought appears, first, ask yourself: Is this thought useful? This, in itself, can be a powerful practice. Because you recognize how useless the vast majority of your thinking is.
Do the stressful thoughts help? The worrying ones? The regretful ones? The ones that criticize, judge, and divide?
Feel the effects of thinking these thoughts. How does your body feel? Are you happy?
When you tell the truth about the futility of most of your thinking, losing interest in it becomes the obvious, sane choice.
If a thought isn’t useful, doesn’t bring you happiness, and disturbs your peace of mind, then lose interest in it. Here are some ways to do that:
- Turn away
- Throw it in the imaginary trash
- Just say no
- Drop it – like a hot potato
- Let it go
- Remind yourself that it isn’t helping you
- See that it is just sound in your head
- Take it in like it is speaking in a language that you don’t understand
- Hear it say, “Blah, blah, blah…”
- “I need to tune out my thoughts like my kids tune out my nagging” – the “aha” moment of our friend who wrote the email I mentioned above.
In fact, aren’t we all masters at tuning out exactly what we don’t want to hear? I know my mother would say I was very good at it when I was a teenager. Apply this strategy to troublesome thoughts and see what happens.
“I tried it, but the thoughts keep coming.”
It’s essential to remember that the goal is not to get rid of thoughts.
Your thinking, especially the highly conditioned kind, may continue for a very long time. Trying to stop it saps your energy and leaves you right where you started – struggling with your thoughts.
If you commit to turning away from thoughts with every fiber of your being, they lose their power over you.
Keep the fire for happiness brightly lit, and your focus remains right here in the now. Thoughts don’t pull you away, so you can be at peace in this moment, and the next and the next…endlessly.
The mind might say, “But it’s not working!” This is just another thought trying to grab your attention – it has no meaning unless you make it real. Let all your thoughts be, and you will discover the timeless presence of now that is eternally peaceful.
Where Does Attention Go?
Now that you aren’t interested in your thoughts, where does your attention go? This is the lovely part, where you discover peace, contentment, and the problem-free continuous flow of experience. Yes, it’s possible for you.
You can’t think your way here; it is discovered once thought has lost its domination over you. And this is what you discover – the simple fact that you are aware.
What is this awareness? It is aware, alive, and pure. It has no personality, gender, nationality, or even history. It contains no content itself, but it is not at odds with anything that arises in it.
Dive in, and see for yourself.
Turn away from focusing on any objects – thoughts, feelings, people, situations. What is left is being aware.
You are aware and always have been, and this awareness is You.
If you want to bathe in the river of peace, happiness, and love, see what is standing in your way. Lose interest in your thinking – all of it, and your self, pure and luminous, will be revealed.
Any questions or insights? Sharing is most welcome…