Last weekend, my shaman was back in town to lead some ceremonies aimed at helping participants connect with their hearts in order to learn things about their nature that are buried deep beneath the surface. Last ceremony I participated in with her (click here to read about it), I had two key insights; one about the white knuckle grasp that I have on the reigns of life; and the other about the importance of turning inwards before focusing on making a difference in the world. This ceremony, the intention that I set was to connect to my heart in order to see what places of fear still exist within it. I try my best to operate from a place of love and openness, but I know that old wounds exist that lead me to close into a ball of fear instead of opening and risk being hurt. I no longer want this to be a part of me. The re-love-ution is grounded in love afterall.
As the ceremony began and progressed, I kept coming across an emotional blockage that would not let me through. Try as I might, I kept shutting down emotionally, much like I can tend to do in “real-life.” Frustrated, I turned to the shaman for advice. She told me to concentrate on the blockage, and to call it forward in order to see it for what it is. Instead of reacting to or shying away from it, I was advised to literally pause and bring it to the surface with a calm determination. I’m not going to get into what I saw about myself when I applied this approach – maybe some other day when I’m ready to share – but let me tell you, her advice totally worked. And it also brought about an epiphany about how calling an emotional blockage forward applies to the quieting of the mind.
The mind is a powerful entity that tends to dictate most people’s day-to-day experiences. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The first step to getting back power over the mind is to start consciously observing your thoughts. Literally just paying attention to what you’re thinking, especially when it comes to judgments about yourself or others. An approach that I find to be effective (click here for my more in-depth explanation of it) in making me conscious [of the nature] of my thoughts is to think of thoughts in terms of “white marbles” (thoughts that serve; i.e. non-judgments, thoughts of love, thoughts of kindness, etc.) and “black marbles” (thoughts that don’t serve; i.e. judgments; criticisms; hostility; anger, etc.). Once you start to be aware of the thoughts that you think, you can start shaping them to reflect the nature of the character that you wish to have. But how exactly do you do start exerting more active control over the nature of your thoughts? It’s a question that I’ve been struggling with.
For a while now, I’ve been trying to shoo-away thoughts that don’t serve me. But as the saying goes, what we resist, persists… and just shutting down or turning my back from things that I did not want to think creates feelings of aversion within me that just seem to give fuel to the thoughts. No, this isn’t the answer. Well, what if instead of reacting to thoughts with a [figurative] turning of the back, I pause to call them forth and actually take the [uncomfortable time] to see them for what they are? Now this is relatively easy in many instances – “I’m annoyed because I’m stuck in traffic. *Pause. Reflect* I really dislike just sitting and waiting like a sheep. I’m being brash. This is out of my control. *Act* Instead of stewing in annoyance I’m going to turn on some Neil Young and sing along to Old Man to pass the time in light-hearted fun.”
Where I find this approach gets trickier is when the thoughts are more closely linked to my sense of Self. You know the thoughts – “I can’t believe I just said that. Oh gawd I probably looked like a fool.” “My boss is totally not responding to my email because she hates what I sent her. It must have been crap.” “I shouldn’t ask this question/share this idea because it’s probably stupid.” “I’m not good enough.” These thoughts are the uncomfortable ones we complacently accept as truth and allow to negatively affect the way we see ourselves. But we need to face them because they’re just like those annoying ghosts from Mario Brothers – they keep following Mario the moment he turns his back to them, but the moment he looks at them, they freeze in their tracks. We’re all more than good enough. We’re all perfect, whole, and complete, especially when we let go of guilt, drop our pretenses, and just be the beautiful balls of love that we are. And the key to doing this is to start loving ourselves with the unconditional love that we extend to those that we hold most dear.
So now when these thoughts arise, I’m going to focus a beam of consciousness on them and call them forward in order to reflect on their message and to look for the truth underlying them. Are they tied to an insecurity? If so, they don’t serve me. Did I try my best in the situation? If so, there is nothing more that I could have done and the rest is out of my hands, so these thoughts no longer serve me as well. Do I know I could have done more or that the way I [re]acted was not reflective of how I really want to be? Well then let me briefly reflect (not dwell – but dissect, reflect, move on) on what I can do differently in the future. Now that the lesson has been seen, dwelling serves no purpose, and so these thoughts no longer serve me as well. Do these thoughts come because an action is needed from me? If so, what are the next steps and what is the most immediate action item? Now that I have a plan, swimming in these thoughts no longer serves me as well. And so the watcher becomes the judge and the judge becomes the guardian of the thoughts. And so we disassociate ourselves from the thoughts and parts of ourselves that lead us to stand in our own way. The biggest thing that keeps us from being the person we want to be and having the life that we want is the way that we view and treat ourselves. How do thoughts dictate the way you see yourself and your surroundings? How do your thoughts rule your life?
“To observe the thought, the first movement then is to step back and look at it, to separate yourself from your thoughts so that the movement of the consciousness and that of thought may not be confused… [then] we must ourselves learn how to distinguish thoughts that are good from those that are not, and for that you must observe… like an enlightened judge – that is to say, as impartially as possible. Once the enlightened judge of our consciousness has distinguished between useful and harmful thoughts, the inner guard will come and allow to pass only approved thoughts, strictly refusing admission to all undesirable elements.”
~ Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth