The first time I heard one of my teachers say that we should talk to our mind, and that he talked to his mind, I was surprised and a bit confused. Talk to my mind? I thought I WAS my mind! How can I talk to my mind? It’s only me in there!
These thoughts were confusing me. It never occurred to me to ask my mind, “Why are you confusing me with these thoughts?” But eventually, I decided to give it a try.
My teacher shared that he would say things to his mind like, “Oh, my mind, why do you chase after endless worries? Why not just stop and rest a bit?”
So I tried that one. And to my surprise I felt a big difference! I felt a sense of ease and spaciousness talking TO my mind instead of Being my mind!
My teacher also said to befriend your mind: “Don’t just talk to it any old way,” he said. So I started to think well of my mind and developed a curiosity about the motivations for its constant creations –– its endless stream of thoughts, memories, and emotions.
My mind had a habit of constant worry. But despite how upsetting these worries could be, I decided that one aspect of befriending my mind would be to assume that my mind had a good heart and good intentions.
From this perspective, instead of being annoyed by “worrying” and affected by the “worries,” I was able to reason that, since my mind has good intentions, it must be trying to help me, so I would ask, “Oh my mind, how are you trying to help me with these worrying thoughts and images?”
“Protection!” said my mind. The answer was immediate, loud and clear. I said, “Thank you for letting me know you want to protect me.” Then I added, “But could you please explain how worrying helps to protect me?”
Now there was no quick answer. Only silence. At that point a new mind emerged: I realized with my witnessing mind –– my reasoning mind –– that my friend, the Worrying Mind, was quite possibly confused.
It wanted to help. It liked to think it was helping. It was clear that it wanted protection. But when it couldn’t answer my request to explain how worrying was protective, it became clear that the Worrying Mind hadn’t done much (or any) strategic thinking about how to protect.
So I asked my mind to think about some actual protection strategies (besides just worrying) and get back to me.
Over time, I noticed that worrying diminished, and little by little, bright moments of inspiration began to increase in a pleasurable way. Helpful thoughts would just pop up like little bursts of clarity accompanied by a delightful feeling of release.
This experience gave me a new appreciation of another teaching I had heard though, at the time, it sounded impractical and tedious to me.
Another Method for Overcoming Worry
In this teaching story, someone asks a master of meditation how he knows when he is having good meditation. He says he starts with a pile of little gray stones and little speckled stones by his side. Then he watches his thoughts. When he has a positive thought, he puts a little gray stone in front of him, off to his left. And if a negative thought comes, he puts a speckled stone in front of him, off to the right.
At the end of the meditation period, he says, he simply looks to see which pile is bigger.
If you don’t want to bother with a lot of little stones, you could practice a variation of this by journaling. On a blank page, draw two columns. Write down Worries in one column and Wows, or positive thoughts, in the other column. At the end of the day, compare the length of what you’ve written in the two columns. Look at the content of the thoughts in each. Evaluate which thoughts are helpful and encouraging and which ones are unhelpful and discouraging.
Which column would you like to see filling up, and which one would you like to see emptying out?
Then you could talk to your mind: “Oh my mind, look at all these thoughts you created today. You are so endlessly active and creative! Please increase thoughts like the ones in this (helpful & encouraging) column and reduce the kinds of thoughts in this (worrying & discouraging) column.”
If your mind responds, “We must keep the worries for protection!” just smile and say, “Oh my mind, you are so endlessly active and creative (you want to keep the appreciation going)! Surely you can think of thoughts suitable for the helpful and encouraging column that can provide protection.”
Keep delivering that message to your mind with sincerity and friendly respect. No pressure! And then observe how your mind changes its behavior over time.
Is anxiety and worry a luxury I can afford?
––Jack Elias & Ceci Miller