How mindfulness helps us overcome self-defeating thoughts
In our mindfulness courses we talk about how we often misperceive things (partly because of the biases that we develop over a lifetime and partly because of our emotional state).
Rather than viewing what is actually in front of us we often see the world through a prism of past experiences. We replay events again and again and react in habitual ways. It’s as though we are actors playing a part and we are not allowed to deviate from the script.
We also perceive the world through the prism of our current emotional state. I know from personal experience that sometimes walking down the Strand, in Townsville, I can feel like I am in paradise but on other days, when I may be feeling down, I barely register its beauty. The Pacific Ocean, magnetic island, cockatoos and palm trees haven’t changed…just my current prism, which comes and goes.
Mindfulness helps me to understand that the prism changes. It doesn’t define me. Mindfulness also draws me back again and again to what’s right in front of me. When I focus on the things in life that help me thrive, such as learning, beauty, health and friendships, I thrive. Paying attention is the greatest gift that we have and it can be improved upon. When we become distracted we loose our ability to focus on the things in life that help us thrive. Training our attention over and over to focus on what’s in front of us helps us develop emotional resilience.
Mindfulness and free will
Mindfulness also teaches me that I have free will. Or at least I choose to believe that I have the power to attend to what I want to attend to ie the things in life that make thrive. I don’t believe that I am an actor playing to a script. I think I am writing my own. This is what William James said on the subject of free will in the 19th century. After many years of failed businesses, relationships and depression he said this:
"I think that yesterday was a crisis in my life. …At any rate, I will assume for the present — until next year — that free will is no illusion. My first act of free will shall be to believe in free will."
When I think about the prism through which I see the world I can either hold a ridged world view about myself and my place within it or I can see thoughts and emotions as wave like events that come and go. Mindfulness helps me notice the hard thoughts and feelings that keep on coming up. With awareness I can either keep feeding mean and self-defeating thoughts or I can develop new ways of thinking by developing kindness and compassion for others and for myself. In order to do this I need to be still and observe myself
An old Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life...
"A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy.
"It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.
"One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego.
"The other is good - he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.
"This same fight is going on inside you - and inside every other person, too."
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather,
"Which wolf will win?"
The old chief simply replied,
"The one you feed."
Have a very happy Christmas and New Year
Our next mindfulness courses in Australia are now online www.breathe-australia.com/sessions