Mindful Mind: You Are Not Your Mind
While the mind is capable of great things, much of the time it limits us.
Call it what you will: the monkey mind, the reptilian brain, the ego – they’re all the same. You are not your mind. And as one of my mentors says: Your mind is not your friend.
While your mind may try to keep you safe, it does not support your growth as a person.
The terminology is confusing here because your mind is what gets in the way of mindfulness and inspiration.
What happens when you come up with a great, off-the-wall kind of idea? Usually your monkey mind immediately jumps in to tell you why it’s a stupid idea that will never work.
You have scared the monkey mind by coming up with something so different. You’re shaking up the status quo. You’re suggesting change. And that scares the monkey mind.
He’ll do all he can to keep you right where you are. Safe.
the mind as task master
The mind also gets in the way by reminding us of all the things we “should” be doing at the moment instead of having fun and following our passions.
My mind was programmed with the old thinking that I can only do something fun after I’ve completed all my chores, to-do’s, “important” things. This leaves very little, if any, time for fun.
The mind also creates arbitrary timelines within which all those to-do’s must be completed and beats us up if we don’t get things done perfectly and on time. This is otherwise known as goal setting.
Lately I’ve been feeling fairly stressed about not accomplishing all that I want to do quickly enough. In an effort to feel better about what I do accomplish, I didn’t set arbitrary deadlines (that I would frequently miss in the past). Even without the deadlines, my mind is still beating me up for what I haven’t completed yet instead of focusing on all the great things I have accomplished.
While meditating today, I had a little talk with my monkey mind. I explained to him that it doesn’t really matter when I accomplish all the things on my list. I made up the things and the timing anyway. Do I really want to live each day of my life feeling stressed and cranky about what I haven’t accomplished yet? Or do I want to feel joy and peace every day? I want the latter. So how do I do this?
By choosing to do the things that bring me joy first. I know that all the goal-getting books out there tell us to do the most important thing first to get it out of the way. I’m choosing to do the most joyful thing first (which very well may be the most important thing, or it may not). That way, my day starts off happy and I bring that happiness into all the other things I choose to do, or not do.
I also reminded my mind that no one will punish me if I don’t get all my chores done before doing something fun. I have chosen to make my livelihood something that I love, something that I think is really fun. My monkey mind is having a hard time with this and starts dreaming up chores for me to do before I focus on writing, creating and learning more about my chosen path.
Sometimes, when I let my mind run my day, it’s 2pm or 3pm before I stop to realize that I haven’t done anything really fun or anything to move my business forward. I let my mind tell me that I have to do office work, laundry, cleaning of all sorts, organizing, meditation, walk check and respond to emails, etc. This is how my day goes when I don’t mindfully choose how I want it to play out.
Realizing that we really can choose how we want to feel all day is very empowering. We don’t have to react to everything that comes our way. We don’t have to habitually accept our mind’s old interpretation of events. We are free to make new, happier choices.
I used to get bent out of shape and angry when my wife made some negative comment. By taking it personally, I let it ruin my day. I would let it take me from happy to cranky and resentful in a heartbeat and I would stay there all day, spewing my negativity on everyone around me (which is contagious, unfortunately).
I’ve learned to stop and be mindful of where he’s coming from before I decide how to react. Usually she’s tired or stressed about something that has nothing to do with me. When I ask her what’s going on with her and how I might help the situation, the negativity is usually quickly diffused.
By realizing that her negativity has nothing to do with me and by not taking it personally, I’m free to choose different responses that not only keep me from slipping down the negative slope but can get him to notice his state and turn it around. When she feels like I’m supporting her instead of blaming her or feeling resentful of her, her tone lightens and becomes more positive. She knows I’m on her side and I’m there for her.
Sometimes I wake up feeling tired and a little grumpy. I used to let this go unexamined and have a grumpy day and negatively affect those around me. Now, as I’m having my morning tea, I stop and have an internal dialogue to ask myself what’s up. I ask myself what I need to feel better. I remind myself that it would suck to feel like this all day. I smile, whether I want to or not, because it makes me feel better. I think of things for which I’m grateful. And I make the choice to be happy.
When you’re feeling fear openly or in one of its many guises (anger, stress, depression, anxiety, etc.), stop and have a little chat with your monkey mind. Realize that you are not your mind.
Ask your mind what the problem is. Have a conversation from an objective, non-judgmental point of view.
Whatever the issue is, follow it down the path of the worst possible scenario. What is the absolute worst thing that could happen? Don’t stop or catch yourself on the way down. Make it as bad as you possibly can. As long as the worst possible scenario isn’t your untimely death, it’s really not that bad.
Whenever I run down the worst case path, I usually end up on a path that I’ve actually experienced and realize that, not only did I survive the disaster, I learned a few things that have made my life better.
Next time your monkey mind jumps in to tell you how stupid you and your choices are, all the people and things you should fear and avoid, how inadequate you are because you don’t meet up with some arbitrary standard, tell your monkey mind where he can go. As soon as you face him and non-judgmentally question his assertions, the faster he’ll take a hike and you can go on having a happy day.
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