by Dalva Church
It is interesting, and ironic, to note that when people are suffering from mental illness, we say that they are “out of their mind”. This could not be farther from the truth. When people are suffering it is because they are IN their minds. They are dwelling on mistakes, hurts from the past, things going wrong, or they are ruminating about future plans, and fears of what is to come.
Being out of your mind ends your suffering.
Consider: Have you ever experienced just being in the moment? A beautiful sunset captures your attention. You see a jewel-perfect hummingbird outside your window, you relax into the hug of a loved one. You hold your infant. You stand by the bedside of a dying loved one, just being there with them, and watch them gently slip away. Your mind is quiet, and there is no suffering there.
Yet, we are always looking outside ourselves for an end to suffering. Our culture encourages this quest, as it sells us product after product to change us externally, in an attempt to end internal suffering. We believe that freedom and happiness come from having the latest toy, the prettiest face, the most prestigious career, the most enviable relationship. Yet as soon as we get that longed-for thing, we notice we are still unhappy, and set off in quest of something, or someone, new.
Modern psychology is little help in our quest for happiness. Talk therapy, which is supposed to bring problems to the surface, often simply results n a constant re-hashing of old wounds–wounds caused by how we think in the first place, rather than by what was done to us. It often keeps people stuck in the past, and in their thought patterns.
Behavioral therapy, based on operant conditioning (Think Pavlov’s drooling dogs), is also very popular at the moment. The problem is that the process is long and tedious. When you consider that, to re-train yourself, you must over-write years and years of training by society and family, the prospect seems daunting. When you further consider that most behavior is a result of layers and multiple areas of conditioning, it seems hopeless to create lasting change.
So, what is a person to do? Settle for pain? Spend years trying to improve?
The fact is, you are already perfect just as you are right now. You need nothing. You lack nothing. There is nothing that needs to be fixed and improved.
The only thing standing between you and that realization is your constant stream of thoughts. It isn’t that you have thoughts, it is that you pay attention to those thoughts, and believe them. You can’t stop those thoughts–that would be like trying to dam Niagara Falls. You can re-program them, with a lot of work–think re-routing Niagara Falls.
What else can you do? Well, let’s stick with our Niagara Falls example for a moment. What happens when you hear a sound for a long time? You are there, at the falls. At first, you thrill to the sound of the massive thundering falls. Imagine you are there for days, though. After a while, you stop paying attention. The sound no longer holds meaning for you.
You can do this with your thoughts. They are programmed background noise. They have no meaning until you pay attention to them and believe them. You can tell you are doing this, when they suck you in, and you are suddenly re-living a fight from last week, planning what you will say when you call your mom, or just drove 20 miles without seeing a thing.
You can also tell when you are believing your thoughts –when you start to feel a negative emotion. You may not even be aware of what you were thinking, but if you are sad, anxious, or depressed, you were listening to a thought.
It is simple to deal with this problem. Identify the thought, and let it go. You can question it, call up its opposite, visualize yourself opening your heart and letting it float away like a balloon on the breeze, hear yourself saying, “that’s not true!” or any other thing that helps you let go of the thought.
Then focus on something more powerful than any thought. Focus on what is happening all around you. Engage all of your senses. What are you hearing, smelling, seeing, sensing? Eat a piece of fruit with total attention. Drink a cup of coffee and taste every sip. Sit quietly and listen to every sound in your environment.
Even better, open your heart to love. This is the most powerful antidote to fear, or any other negativity. I don’t mean romantic love, or even the emotion. If you are not sure how to tap into love, begin by thinking of a person in your life that you love unconditionally. It could even be a pet, past or present. Allow yourself to really experience a moment with that being, what it feels like, how you love them so much. Feel your heart expanding, opening, warming. Fall deep into that sensation of complete and total love, and let it overtake your whole being. Then fall deeper into a place of total peace. Keep allowing your heart to expand until you can feel your oneness with everything.
From that place, there is no suffering. You are out of your mind–and what a beautiful place that is to be.