When experiencing distress or any negative challenge with our mental state, our poor minds can tend to take the blame. If we're experiencing a depressing phase, finding our anxiety to be increasing or becoming overwhelmed with daily living - it all seems to point towards an issue with our minds. As the momentum of mental health awareness gains speed, we're more aware of the many labels we can attach to our mind but does this awareness make our minds the target? The source of struggle?
I certainly believe it makes it more difficult to live with ourselves if we see our minds as the root of our problems. If we look inwardly with blame, shame and hostility, our mind is not going to thrive. When we demonise our very thought process, the simplest of tasks can become ordeals, inner arguments lead to self hatred and resentment and ultimately we feel very much helpless and lacking in control.
Not good things.
What if, regardless what we're going through, we choose to see our minds as a tool, a friend, a co-creator in our path towards freedom and wellness? What if we see the issue, label or whatever we're annoyed at our minds for, as a separate entity i.e. not part of the mind itself, but a passing albeit unwanted visitor? Instead of cursing the mind for every mishap or failure or difficult moment, we decide to treat it with compassion. What if care and reassurance were our instinctive responses?
I've been learning that compassion and combining kindness with mindfulness (kindfulness as my inspiration Ajahn Brahm would put it) has a profound effect on many areas in our lives. It is a powerful shift in thinking and attitude that can actually cultivate a nurturing environment in place of one which dwells in negativity.
Our minds are our own. They are extremely powerful, holding unlimited potential for us in our lives, when we learn to work with them rather than against them.
Of course outside influences, our environment and the curveballs life throws at us affects them and yes there are many very serious distresses that they can go through - but they are still ours.
And we need to extend our self love to our minds. They are not faulty or defective but maybe just sensitive to negative experiences and distress.
And what do we do with something sensitive and vulnerable? Well we don't berate it.
We encourage, support and reassure it. We realise that it is more than capable of overcoming these challenges and we are going to be part of the team that ensures its victory.
Our minds are no different and if we want them to thrive and help us achieve all that we are here to achieve, we could probably do with treating them more like friends than foes.
Here's a 1-2-3 to do just that:
As with any friend, we'd like to treat our minds with a mindful kindness. That means compassionate self talk and a commitment to positive re-enforcement throughout testing times. Recall regularly just how amazing the mind is, exercise gratitude and appreciation for all that it does for us. Friends wouldn't stick around for long if we persisted in dissing them, so likewise in befriending our minds, a thankful, caring and considerate attitude will be of much more benefit. Affirm the goodness that's within, acknowledge that it cannot be expected to be perfect, change the inner tone from one of harsh criticism and irritability to one of more tolerance, patience and understanding. You and your mind are not at war, you are in fact the team needed to beat the adversity you experience. When allowed to thrive, I can say from personal experience that this magnificent mate will relentlessly serve us in a positive and supportive way.
With the understanding that thoughts create feelings which in turn, create behaviours - we may see our mind as the one to blame for regrettable experiences or destructive behaviours we have gone through. Past memories or waves of shame that we replay could of course feed in to ammunition against our minds - but that's not fair. In troubling times, whatever we went through, there may have been a parasitic influence of negativity in our thinking, which did/does not have our best interests at heart. This is not our own mind, this is a condition or affliction that has affected our thinking. And we need to forgive ourselves and our minds for these things. I for one, have plenty of regrettable experiences from when I was unwell in myself, but I know it's not the fault of my mind but the condition I was dealing with at the time. In forgiving myself and my mind for this, I am freer to move forward and embrace the more positive, fulfilling and helpful relationship I have with my mind now. I forgive all the challenges I went through at the hands of my thinking and I'd hope that if personified, my mind would forgive me the lengthy abuse and disdain it went through from me.
If you want something to work well it'll need the required energy, nourishment and fuel. Ensure to fulfil the needs of your mind, getting ample rest, food and hydration. Minimise stress as much as possible and allow your beautiful, creative mind to indulge in passions and pursuits that revitalise it. Invest time in positive experiences, laughter and fun. Essentially, bring your mind to nice places as you would a friend, let it do things it enjoys, ensure not to over-exert it, respect its limits and allow it to recharge. Consider the effects that certain actions will have on it, recognising the difference between numbing and self care, avoidance and expression. The mind has needs and if we wish to show that we really care about it, it's our duty to take these seriously and get to know what is and isn't going to nurture it.
I got inspired to write this after listening to a talk by aforementioned Ajahn Brahm where he speaks about becoming kinder in meditation and eradicating the 'control freak' we become when trying to force zen upon ourselves, ('stop thinking', 'I should not be thinking right now, etc). He speaks of how much more time we'd want to spend with someone kind, compassionate and friendly and how this somewhat aggressive approach to meditation is of course off-putting to our mind in terms of becoming relaxed. It makes sense in a lot of areas of life, that compassion and kindness are the heart of opening things up. They allow for space and freedom and growth. They are soft and welcoming and there's a gorgeous absence of criticism and judgement.
All I want for people reading this blog is to feel that freedom of criticism and judgement, to thrive, to overcome the challenges in life and start daring to live the life they want to - a life that promotes, encourages and supports their happiness. And I'm afraid that nowadays we get so caught up in labels and identifying with our struggles that we dis-empower our own healing, our own triumph and recovery. We need to believe in our minds as allies. Because I promise you, they are. I know this to be true, wholeheartedly from personal experience. They are amazing things, these minds of ours. And I know they all have so much to give and so much to explore and experience and create. They are the homes of so many upcoming incredible memories, the cultivators of magical moments and the authors of our beautiful lives.
Treat them as such. You only get one.
About Yvonne Doherty
25 year old Yvonne hails from Ireland but is currently exploring what life in the southern hemisphere has to offer. Having travelled through her own journey towards freedom and happiness, she now wants to share ideas on positive mental health, daring to live whole happy lives and overcoming anything that gets in the way of that. You can find more of these ideas in blog and poetry form over at daretolivesos.com and @daretolivesos on social media.