“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” ~William James
I’ve been meditating for many years, but there are still days when I feel like it’s something I need to tick off my to-do list.
On some days, particularly when I’m in the middle of a big project, it can feel hard to put even ten minutes aside for meditating. The driven voice in my head tries to convince me that this practice of pausing and connecting with presence is a waste of time.
It’s a compelling voice, particularly on days when it feels like there are so many urgent things to do. But it’s especially on those days, when I manage to recognize those sabotaging thoughts for what they are, that I find so much benefit from meditating.
When I sit to meditate on these days, I immediately notice the tightness in my chest and throat and the underlying agitation of my stress. I notice my mind spewing out to-do lists in a way that makes it nearly impossible to resist getting up and just doing it all.
Then I see what is happening. Ah, agitation is here. By making time for meditation, I get to more consciously connect with myself and my state of being, and I realize that my sense of urgency is actually fuelled from a physical state of tension and stress.
By the end of my meditation session, my chest open ups, my breath becomes less impeded, my belly softens, and my whole being settles back into a feeling of calm presence.
I’m grateful that I have this practice that it has taught me how to discern between thoughts that are worth listening to and thoughts that are psychic garbage that needs to be discarded.
Meditation has taught me how to relate to my thoughts in a completely revolutionary way. I can’t believe this education isn’t mandatory from primary school. I wonder how my life may have been different with this discerning lens on my inner experience.
Through the practice of meditation, I have come to realize that thoughts can be likened to having a radio on in the background of your mind, and sometimes the channels that you’re tuned into are full of rubbish.
The difference is that when you’re listening to a radio, if there’s a channel you don’t like, you can easily fix it by changing the station. However, for many of us, when it comes to our thought stream, we sit there tuned in, immersed in a toxic running commentary without changing the station.
Until I learned the practice of mindfulness meditation I was a prisoner of my own thoughts. When you believe that all your thoughts are truth, your beliefs and stories can limit your possibilities and potential.
As Gandhi stated:
“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.”
So how do you know which thoughts are valuable and which thoughts you should disregard?
It’s usually the negative thoughts that have a particular power to affect our destiny. So, next time you are having a thought that feels self-critical, judgmental, worried, or stressed, take a mindful moment, pause, and ask yourself if this thought is supporting you to be the person you want to be, and live in the way you want to live.
Recognize the emotion below the thought that might be driving that type of thinking. Is there fear, overwhelm, stress, hurt, anxiety, shame, or anger?
By getting to the root of the emotion behind the thought, you can then make wiser decisions about how to respond to what is triggering that emotion rather than stay captive to unproductive thought loops.
How to Find Emotional Freedom Through Mindfulness
1. Be aware.
Notice when you are thinking something that is negative or creating emotional discomfort. Then ask yourself: is this thought moving me toward or away from what I value and how I want to be living?
2. Let go.
If you discover the thought is moving you away from who you want to be and how you want to live, simply let it go. Unhook from the toxic radio station in your mind that is sending you unhelpful messages. Realize that this thought is just a thought and not an authority.
3. Be gentle with yourself.
Take a moment to bring compassion to yourself as you recognize and uncover the underlying emotion that is fueling these negative, unhelpful thought streams.
4. Understand how your mind works.
Remind yourself that the nature of the mind is to think. It is constantly producing thoughts, some of which are creative and inspired and others that are holding you captive and bringing you down. Realize that you don’t have to believe every thought that comes into your mind.
Mindfulness, that capacity to be aware of what is happening from moment to moment, helps you guard your own mind so you can carefully choose which thoughts you let influence your choices and life.
Man meditating at sunset image via Shutterstock