Have you ever been hijacked by your mind? For me, it started when I was a teenager.
Mine is a familiar story, almost cliche – I was a mess – emotionally charged, kicked out of school and home regularly, suspicious and mistrustful of most adults, lots of friends and parties, drugs and alcohol. Boyfriends added to the emotional roller coaster. If I wasn’t fighting with the boyfriend then it was my parents or teachers. My mind was always spinning – obsessive thoughts, sometimes paranoid and jealous.
I was seeing a social worker (at the ‘suggestion’ of my high school) and I still remember some advice she gave me. I was obsessing and hadn’t eaten much for days after a bitter break-up from a two year relationship. At fifteen, I was in a desperate frame of mind. I’d been alternating between pushing away my constant thoughts, trying hard not to think about the situation or giving in to my obsessions, wallowing in it, raging internally. Everything – songs, TV, friends – reminded me of him, good times and bad, perceived transgressions, the degree to which I’d been victimized, etcetera.
Her suggestion was simple. She said when a memory surfaces, acknowledge it, don’t resist it but also don’t expand it, generating thoughts that lead to suffering. Once you’ve accepted the memory that’s been triggered, that’s it. Move on. This may sound obvious but it really struck me. For the first time, I began to realize that I have a choice. I wouldn’t have been able to articulate this then but what it meant was that my mind was not in charge – I was.
What I understand now is that conquering a busy mind is a lifelong practice and can be the difference between a miserable, angry life or one filled with love and gratitude.
We have somewhere between 12,000 to 65,000 thoughts per day, although I’ve seen reference to a wider range (between 2,000 to 600,000!). Most commonly, 50-60,000 is considered a good estimate.
Being human means having thoughts all day, every day: endless observations, judgements, interpretations, complaints, worries, ‘what-ifs’, memories, regrets, wishes, desires, dreams about our future, anger about our past, and on and on. I’ve seen statistics that 95% of them are repetitive. Some thoughts are random, others can hijack us if let our emotions react to what are sometimes completely irrational, twisted versions of reality. For me, it has been a major breakthrough to understand that I am NOT my thoughts. For years, my thoughts ran me. They still try to, every single day, but I am watching them now!
In researching this, I was astounded to discover that most of our thoughts are not even about the present. The majority of our thoughts are rooted in the past, somewhere between 70 and 90%. They’re not just replays of ‘what happened’ but we add our own interpretation and meaning. Within our minds, our perception of the past can often become warped. About 10-20% of our thoughts involve imagining what will happen in the future. Only a small percentage of them actually focus on the present moment in a purely experiential manner which is where life truly exists.
Eckhart Tolle, author of “The Power of Now” and “A New Earth”, tells us: “Stay fully present in the now—your whole life unfolds here. In the now there is joy of Being and deep peace”.
When you realize you are not your thoughts, that you are a being with a powerful inner spirit with an appendage that generates non-stop thoughts, the possibility exists to become an observer of the mind and take control.
Louise Hay’s work on “affirmations” demonstrates how you can change your life by the practice of generating positive, life-affirming thoughts. She says: “Trust life to hear and respond to your positive words. Say these affirmations every day and your whole world will change for the better.”
I still struggle with my tendency to wallow in negative, mistrustful thoughts, to over-react to situations. I believe it was Samuel Clemens who said: “Just because I’m paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me.” Well, that pretty much sums up how I feel sometimes, especially in the politically charged corporate world that many of us need to immerse ourselves in to make a living.
I believe that being self-aware and committed to conquering your mind is half the battle. Avoid the inner time travel and be here now. I’m so much better at this than I was at fifteen. With continued practice, I imagine I will be quite wise (and peaceful) by the time I’m 70.