More on “The Stories”

“I think about a million different things!” A common response (or excuse) when people are challenged by the counting mindfulness practice. Their minds are too busy thinking about too many things. Too many distractions, too much anxiety or depression, not enough time or money. The thoughts are legion…

As I thought about this seemingly insurmountable problem it occurred to me that no, there are not a million things you think about, there are only a handful – the rest are details, facets of the jewel that is anxiety or whatever.

Try it: notice what you’re thinking about right now, the undercurrents of distraction or judgment that derail your capability to move forward. One of mine in the moment is this nagging discomfort of my neck not being quite right and the perceived need to schedule an appointment with my dear chiropractor Jill. Which I just did, after confirming a therapy session. Always something else to do other than what is right in front of us. Now that I made my appointment I notice where my thoughts go, or try to. There is that one place they are drawn to, an emotional gravitation source that nags the hell out of me and I can’t seem to shake.

So I get up to go smoke and ponder but get distracted by my yard and how the new grass is growing, then get a fresh cup of coffee and wipe down the kitchen island. Okay, now I’m back and no new information has been gained. Distracted and undisciplined. I don’t think this is uncommon but maybe it’s just me…

Back to the subject of the moment: what are those root thoughts that cause so much distraction? When I ask my students what they are thinking and feeling in the moment the usual response is “I don’t know.” Of course this is quite prompting so I don’t accept it and press a bit. More often than not some insight is gained when they work just a bit to be willing to let words out of their heads, to be willing to sound “stupid” or to be vulnerable, verbalizing maybe for the first time their thoughts and feelings. This is the beginning of real learning for them – it was for me anyway. And what they (and I) discover is that there are just a few things that command attention.

Fear is the primary driver of the multitude of thoughts: fear of inadequacy, fear of failure (or success), fear of not having enough money or time or the limitations of their current circumstances. Insecurity in the basics of life, or at least perceived insecurity. Ah, perceptions… the need for certainty when there is so little that is certain. Actually, nothing is certain until it happens of course, there are only probabilities, and our previous actions are by and large the primary determiners of those probabilities. The same holds true with our thoughts and emotions; they feed upon themselves and grow deep roots. It is those roots that I’m talking about, those deep recesses of our minds that are so subtly noisy. This is why Weaponized Mindfulness came into being and why it is difficult at first; we are going against the momentum of the energy of our pattern of thinking and feeling and acting (or not.)

As you learn to quiet your mind and control your attention you increase your ability to notice the nature of your thoughts and emotions and can either turn towards them for examination or turn away. “Nothing to see here folks, move along!” Literally. Those same old stories have nothing new to teach us but until some capability to control attention is developed the shouting distracts us. And it’s all the same stuff mostly. Time, money, relationships, judgments.

Recognize that you see things as you are not necessarily as they are. Consider a different point of view, even turning to gratitude for what you have, what you can do. Practice telling your mind what to think rather than the other way around. This is the root of freedom.

2 thoughts on “More on “The Stories”

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  1. Spencer and I used to break it down to three things: job, living place, and girl. Things have changed of course, as they do. Perhaps now it is job, living place, family. Which in many ways boils down even further to just fear- being afraid, the sympathetic nervous system activated. And if distraction is rooted in fear, would this imply that mindfulness is rooted in love? Ah, the duality of man! In the meantime, I’ll just remind myself that deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system…


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