In yoga, the mind is often compared to a drunken monkey that has been stung by a bee/scorpion and is running around obsessed with, or possessed by, something that it cannot see. Yogic texts such as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are about the process of stilling the mind. The Sutras date back around 2,000 years ago according to some researchers and we are still questing for ways to find inner peace of mind. It is a practice and the more we do it the easier it becomes.
Even with decades of meditation practice and years of studying self-inquiry I still find that my thoughts have a mind of their own sometimes. Recently I was struggling with a challenging situation and a friend suggested I start a daily practice of appreciation. I am a longtime believer that word choice makes a difference. I already have a gratitude practice so I asked her how appreciation is different. She said, gratitude is in the past and appreciation is something felt in the the present moment. Other sources talk about how gratitude has a tinge of having come through something unpleasant, as in, "I'm grateful THAT'S over!"
"If you have a choice to feel gratitude for having come through a situation or to feel appreciation for this moment, always choose appreciation; for it will help give you even more energy to create a life of your own design." -- Morgan McKean
So if we are struggling with appreciation does it mean that we are stuck in the past? How do we let it go and shift our focus to the present?
In the book, Being Mortal, Atul Gawande shares research about how we perceive and evaluate the experiences that we have in life. Our minds remember events similar to a 30 second blip in the news--the high or low point and how things turned out in the end. The concept is called the Peak-End rule and it explains why we can have a consistently pleasant experience and still dwell on the one thing that went wrong. To further drive us into the rut of our thinking, a part of our brain, called the Reticular Activating System, looks for what we tell it to. So if you think of an experience as negative then your RAS will scan through the event and highlight all of the things that make it a negative experience.
What I have come to realize as I put these concepts into practice is that the end is whenever we decide it to be. We are the hero or heroine of our story and we can rewrite the way things turn out at any time.
When you find yourself struggling with a situation or negative thoughts, try this meditation to rewrite the inner monologue:
- Close your eyes and take a couple deep breaths. Settle the body and let the shoulders and neck relax.
- Imagine yourself in a place where you feel safe and at ease. I like to visualize a beautiful calm lake tucked in a thick forest. I feel both alone and sheltered. Use any place real or imagined that helps you feel like you have some breathing space to be alone.
- Ask yourself, in this story in your life, "who is the person you most want to be?" Give yourself some time to sit with the question, to be honest with what would be the most authentic and best part of yourself you could be in this situation. Allow yourself to feel that this is who you truly are.
- Feel that this is the new end of the story for that particular situation. Remember you are the author and you get to choose when the conclusion comes. Come back to the details of the image you chose and spend some breaths soaking it all in. When it feels complete or like a shift has happened then see yourself peacefully leaving the space and allow the image to fade away. Return to the feeling of your physical body and take a couple deep breaths.
As you go throughout your day and thoughts of the original situation come up, pause and feel appreciation for the chance to write your own ending where you are the person you most want to be. What you may find is that your thoughts begin to highlight for you all the times that you show up as your best self and the other thoughts have less of a hold on you.