How to Make Your Mind Your Friend
“As you go deeper into yourself, you will naturally come to realize that there is an aspect of your being that is always there and never changes. This is your sense of awareness, your consciousness. It is this awareness that is aware of your thoughts, experiences the ebb and flow of your emotions, and receives your physical senses. This is the root of Self. You are not your thoughts; you are aware of your thoughts. You are not your emotions; you feel your emotions. You are not your body; you look at it in the mirror and experience this world through its eyes and ears. You are the conscious being who is aware that you are aware of all these inner and outer things.” Singer MA.
Some moments in our lives are always with us. One of mine is sitting in a Cuban rattan chair on a sunny morning knowing that I had to learn how to make my mind my friend. Things had to change. I was tired of being led around by the nose. Meditation seemed to be the answer. Until I discovered what I call my observer self, I thought my mind was automatic. I had no concept that I was able to control and direct my thoughts. I believed they just happened.
How do you make your mind your friend?
One way is to learn how to be an observer of your thoughts. One of the best ways I do this is by using ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). Dr. Russ Harris, one of the first leaders, gives a non-technical overview on a downloadable PDF:
“The goal of ACT is to create a rich and meaningful life, while accepting the pain that inevitably goes with it. ‘ACT’ is a good abbreviation, because this therapy is about taking effective action guided by our deepest values and in which we are fully present and engaged. It is only through mindful action that we can create a meaningful life. Of course, as we attempt to create such a life, we will encounter all sorts of barriers, in the form of unpleasant and unwanted ‘private experiences’ (thoughts, images, feelings, sensations, urges, and memories). ACT teaches mindfulness skills as an effective way to handle these private experiences.”
I will be writing about it more in the future.
Metaphors play a big role in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, as they provide clients with a simple way to understand how their feelings and thoughts influence their actions, allowing them to see how adjusting the way they think can result in extremely positive outcomes.
The Sailing Boat Metaphor
This metaphor uses the setting of a small sailing boat with you as the sailor. Occasionally, waves send water over the side and into the boat, causing you the inconvenience of wet feet. The boat includes a bailer to bail out this water, and you know how to use it.
So, one day when a particularly big wave breaks over the side and leaves water in your boat, you start bailing. You may start bailing calmly or mindfully, but eventually you might find yourself bailing desperately or wildly to get rid of all this water.
While you’ve been bailing, have you noticed what is happening to your boat? Where it is headed? Where it has drifted to? Would it be fair to say you’ve been bailing more than sailing?
Now imagine that you take a look at the bailer and see that it is really a sieve, full of holes? What would you do?
The implicit promise of bailing is that you can get your boat back on track once you rid the boat of the water, but if your tool is not suited to the task, you will find yourself struggling to meet this goal.
The real question in this metaphor is whether you would rather be on a boat that has only a little water in the bottom but is drifting without direction, or on a boat that may have quite a bit of water in the bottom but is heading in the direction you wish to go.
This metaphor can help you or your clients realize two things:
1) The techniques we use to deal with our problematic thoughts and feelings are tools like the bailer and the sieve, and some are better than others.
2) Sometimes working desperately to avoid wet feet (or other painful or uncomfortable feelings) gets us so off-track the life we want to live that wet feet are the least of our problems.
To read this metaphor in its entirety, see this link.
The Mind Bully
This metaphor is specifically meant for people struggling with a particular emotion or diagnosis, like anger, anxiety, or depression.
In this metaphor, the mind bully is our particular problem, and it is an extremely large and strong bully. We are on opposite sides of a pit, tugging back and forth on a rope as the Mind Bully tries to make us fall into the pit.
When we pull on the rope, when we listen and pay attention to or even believe the monster, we are actually feeding it. Like any petty bully, the Mind Bully can only harm us if we engage with it or believe the negative things it says.
Instead of pulling on the rope, what do you think would happen if we drop it?
If we let go of the rope, the Mind Bully will still be there, hurling its insults and meanness, but it would no longer be able to pull us towards the pit. The less that we feed the Mind Bully, the smaller and quieter it will get.
In dealing with difficult problems like anxiety or depression, we stop feeding the Mind Bully by noticing and acknowledging it, but shifting our attention away from it instead of believing what it says. Engaging in a quick mindfulness exercise can be a great way to do this.
To learn more about the Mind Bully metaphor and read the alternate version of this metaphor, visit this website.