I love brain research! I am fascinated by what these minds can do and the power they have over our lives. We are constantly thinking. In 2005, the National Science Foundation published an article summarizing research on human thoughts per day. It was found that the average person has about 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those thousands of thoughts, 80% were negative, and 95% were exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before.
Imagine that! If 80% of your thoughts are negative, then your overall impression of life is NEGATIVE. Yikes!!
Tara Brach calls this constant and mostly repetitive thought cycle a “trance”. We get so wrapped up in it that we feel we can’t escape. It’s like being trapped in a torture room with the same negative, repetitive thoughts running over and over and over. Add to that that a whole lot of those thoughts are about YOU and now you have the perfect recipe for self-destruction.
Sound familiar?? I know it is for me. I spent a whole lot of my life as my own worst enemy. Beating myself up, tearing myself down, and allowing the same, unproductive thoughts to swirl around in my mind like a swarm of angry bees. Add to that a big dose of the “trance of unworthiness” and it’s no wonder I felt like I had to pretend and be perfect in order to fit in and be accepted. I was constantly seeking validation and the “right” answer from outside sources because surely I wasn’t capable or good enough to know what was best for me.
So what changed? How did I break the cycle and emerge from the trance? My yoga journey was definitely the starting point of it. For most people, yoga starts with an exploration of the body. A getting to know, appreciate, and truly love this vessel we’ve been assigned and a desire to make it feel better. Then the shift begins to happen. We start to notice how good we feel on the inside when we spend time on our yoga mat. I started out barely able to rest for 5 minutes in savasana. My mind was SO overactive that I felt I would burst out of my skin if I just had to lay there and do nothing. But then I took what I consider my first REAL yoga class at a studio with the person who would eventually become my mentor on my yoga teacher journey. This woman radiated calm and peace from every cell. I immediately said to myself, “I want what she’s got”. She introduced me to the simple concept of using an intention to quiet the mind. So simple it almost seemed unbelievable that it would truly work. Inhale “Be” exhale “Here”. I began to use this simple mantra whenever my mind was running amok and amazingly it worked!! For the first time I was able to truly relax and find peace in savasana. I was able to break the cycle of a repetitive thought and refocus on the present moment. This was my first introduction to the practice of Mindfulness.
What is Mindfulness, you ask? According to www.mindful.org, “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Mindfulness is a quality that every human being already possesses, it’s not something you have to conjure up, you just have to learn how to access it.” Tara Brach says, “Our mindfulness practice is not about vanquishing our thoughts. It’s about becoming aware of the process of thinking so that we are not in a trance—lost inside our thoughts.” It is also about activating a whole lot of kindness and compassion for ourselves and our humanness. Recognizing when we are beating ourselves up or dragging ourselves down and giving ourselves grace and tenderness. You can either be your own worst enemy, or you can pause and choose to be your own best friend. I’ve learned over the years to find what I call my inner life coach, or guru, during those times that I’m in self attack mode. I take a few long, slow breaths to come into the present moment. Then I ask myself, “What do I need to hear right now? What would my inner life coach tell me?”
For most of my life, I would simply turn to my mom for those words I needed to hear. She truly was my greatest supporter and cheerleader. When she died of cancer in 2011, I felt lost without her voice to guide me. Over time, and with a whole lot of practice, I have learned to find that voice inside of me. Not the busy, critical, sometimes crazy one in my head. The one we refer to in yoga as the “monkey mind”. I’ve found the voice that lives deep inside of me, the voice of my Truth. We all have this voice, but often it speaks in a whisper too quiet to hear amidst the noise of life. We might hear it softly, but we are so conditioned to the outside noise that we don’t trust it.
Glennon Doyle calls this inner voice “The Knowing”. In her book Untamed she says, “the more consistently, bravely and precisely I follow the inner Knowing, the more precise and beautiful my outer life becomes. The more I live by my own Knowing, the more my life becomes my own and the less afraid I become. I trust that the Knowing will go with me wherever I go, nudging me toward the next thing, one thing at a time, guiding me all the way home.”
So, the next time you find yourself caught in the “trance”, lost in thought, and stuck in your monkey mind perhaps in a self-destructive vortex…pause and BREATHE. Breathe in and out, slowly and mindfully. Notice your breath. Notice your body. Pull yourself into the moment. Repeat to yourself “Be Here” with your inhale and exhale. In those few moments, you will stop the cycle and you will connect with your Knowing. In that space, listen carefully for the voice that tells you “You’ve got this”, “You can do hard things”, “You are a good person”, “You are enough!”.
And remember, be kind….you are listening!!
Mary Baker - ERYT-500 yoga teacher, adventure lover, fitness junkie, doughnut snob, whiskey & wine sipper