Beyond the suffering mind lies love

In the last post, I quoted the following, “I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments” (From The Invitation, Oriah Mountain Dreamer). It can be scary, those empty moments. We can fill the day with all sorts of distractions, but it is often in the empty moments, like after sleeping or on awakening in the middle of the night, or in a walk by oneself, or while waiting, or at countless other moments, when a small voice inside almost like one’s conscience reminds us of that which troubles us. At the moment, for many, it is things around the threat from pandemic illness, but it might be something else. We might, despite all we know and all our best efforts, find ourselves descending into the familiar pit of our suffering. We might scramble to get out, but the sides keep falling in and there we are, stuck with our pain. That can be when one despairs.

These times come to test us. They can keep coming until we find a way to manage them. For some it can offer a way through to greater peace, but for others it just keeps coming. There can be many reasons. It might be our own personal process that we are working through but it might also be circumstances outside of us. In troubled times in the world we may also feel the pain of others and it can seem as if it is our own pain, when in fact we’re taking on others’ suffering. Now can be such a time.

Using awareness of suffering

This is where self awareness is important, to be able to enquire within as to what it’s about, and to be able to discriminate between our own pain and that of others.

I’ve suggested before that these “dark nights of the soul” can be very scary, but they can also be instructive. It can depend whether we are willing to embrace the situation and see it through to the important understanding that it can offer.

It is also be useful to be able to have ways to release ourselves from that which is troubling us, and each might find their own way to learn what the pain is about and how to release ourselves.

Understanding the mind

The Buddha said that Pain is certain. Suffering is optional. Humans suffer, unless or until they gain a mastery over it. Then they can be the observer of pain but not caught up in it. This is where understanding the mind is important.

Left to its own devices, the mind can take us all over the place. It’s very powerful. We can go to the heights of elation and the depths of despair. We can make up all sorts of things, about other people, ourselves, what’s going on. You name it. If we let it.

The mind is very creative. What we we think, we are. What we focus on, we draw to us. It’s the law of attraction, like a magnet. So, if you or I keep focusing on something, it’s more likely to happen. If we let it. Hence we have choice. It’s an option.

Use mindfulness to manage the mind

So, it’s important to stop. Use the skills of mindfulness

  1. So notice what you are paying attention to. Become mindful of it. Notice you are thinking a certain thing. Become aware of it.
  2. Step back from it. Put distance between the thought and you. This is where the will is important.
  3. Notice it, like you are now the observer of it. As we say, witness it. Be the witness of your ego at work, but not caught up in it.

You are not your thoughts. You, and I, are so much more than our thoughts, the “sweaty ego”.

When we step back and witness our thoughts, we have true power.

The other side of fear is love. That’s who we are, in whatever understanding you have of that.

When we step back and become the observer, we let can love in.

This is why these dark nights of the soul are so important, to know the space beyond suffering.

Then rest in the witness. Rest in the awareness that you are love.

Where the mind goes, the energy flows

The mind is powerfully creative, even when we’re thinking negatively. What we focus on is more likely to happen, even those things we don’t want. Understanding the power of the mind has great potential, not only to help bring about the things we want but also to make less likely the things we don’t want. We simply need to be aware of what we’re giving attention to, and make sure that that is being done with positive intent.

On one occasion I was delivering some workshops in London, which involved a short tube journey from my accommodation to the venue. The last morning I came downstairs for breakfast at the agreed time to find that the breakfast room was in darkness, with the shutters closed and nothing laid out. I waited some minutes and noticed my agitation rising. “This will delay me”, I thought. Eventually I went and called up the people in charge and got my breakfast.

Then, when I got to the tube station, the train was delayed. Again I noticed my state of mind and this time found I was thinking that the longer I waited the more the station would fill up, the more crowded the train would be and somehow the later I would get to my destination. Eventually I got a train on another route and then found myself thinking the change I’d need to make would lead to more crowded trains, more delays, and so on.

At some point in this internal dialogue I began to get a grip. “Stop!”, I told myself. “You’re too focused on delays. Stop this! (Deep breath in, breathe out, and let go) My train will have plenty of room, there is plenty of time and I will get there in time. I am flowing calmly, easily and effortlessly through the mass of people”. And so it was, even to getting there 10 minutes earlier than before!

This process is one I am familiar with. I find that what I think comes about, provided my intention is clear, I sustain the intention, and my on-going thoughts are supportive of that intention. And provided that I let go of being attached to it happening, eg. letting go of worrying that it won’t happen. If, by contrast I get embroiled in some negative self-talk, events follow in train with that internal conversation.

It’s not an easy process and requires will and effort to sustain. But training the mind has great benefits. What is crucial is to become aware, using self awareness, and stop the negative flow. Almost literally to drop them. Learning to drop them takes practice, as does re-framing the thoughts so as to fufill the desired outcome.

We have that power. Studies of the brain have shown that changing thought patterns lead to the old neural pathways withering away, while new ones become established in their place. The power of the mind is hugely creative.

So what do you find happens to your mind if you let it “do its own thing”? How easy do you find it to shift your thinking into something preferable? How do you feel about changing your thinking and letting a positive energy flow through your life?

Mindfulness teaches that you are not your thoughts

It’s so easy to spend much of our lives wrapped up with, if not the prisoner, of what we think. Yet, after becoming aware that something is going on for you, that you are “caught up” in your thoughts, the crucial next stage is to be able to “step back” from the content of your mind. This is a very important shift in awareness and it underlines a vital aspect of mindfulness, that you can control what you focus on and that you are not your thoughts. Put another way, thoughts are not facts; they are simply thoughts in your field of awareness.

Mindfulness and thoughts

We’re usually unconsciously full of thoughts, one following another, and their accompanying feelings. It can seem that that is just how things are, and it can follow that we can be prey to all sorts of uncomfortable thoughts if things aren’t going so well. You might of course try to make a big effort to suppress them, but they can have a knack of springing back, particularly if they’ve hit a raw nerve. A lot of this is unconscious or habitual: we’ve usually thought in particular ways, and have probably done so for eons. It can be compulsive. Thus we tend to say we get “caught up” in particular content, particular lines of thought.

With mindfulness, we “step back”, pause the mental stream and notice something’s happening, and detach ourselves from being “caught up” in it. This is not a closed off, batten down the hatches, big effort of control stuff, this is simply becoming aware and releasing ourselves from what we’re thinking. In a sense we might still be thinking it, but part of us, what some call an “aware self”, notices that this is what’s going on. Using intention, the act of will, we become aware of ourselves thinking it, whatever “it” is.

And it isn’t us. We aren’t our thoughts. We’re so much more than these thoughts. These thoughts aren’t real. They aren’t facts. They are simply thoughts, which come and go, like clouds in a blue sky. With mindfulness, we seek to train ourselves to make this vital distinction.

It takes practice. People sometimes need to learn how to make this distinction with mindfuless and thoughts, and to see where in their lives this is habitual, and how this unuseful thinking crops up and messes things up for them.

Once people start to get this skill, they discover a hugely powerful tool that can transform their lives. You can learn more about all this with our very useful free e-course, to the top left of this blog post that you are reading.