Can you actually control your mind? Have you ever tried? It’s quite challenging. If you are human, you most likely feel like you’re spinning your wheels to no avail, which can be quite frustrating and self-abusive, especially when you are engrossed in the middle of what feels like a major mental affliction or emotional state. Once you’re absorbed, it can feel like there’s no turning back.
Your mind is the most powerful tool you have. Your thoughts influence your perception, and ultimately, your interpretation of reality. Allegedly, the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if all of the chatter in one’s brain is unproductive or self-destructive. So you can let your thoughts run wild and control you, or you can choose to take the power back and be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts.
This is all very challenging for the average person to do. So, we received guidance from two of our experts, Pandit Dasa and Heather Lilleston, about their theories on what to do with all of the chatter in our minds.
Pandit: On the Power of Meditation to Control the Mind
The mind can be compared to a sponge – it absorbs everything it touches. It can also be compared to a hard drive with an unlimited storage capacity. An unhealthy mind has the tendency to dwell on and magnify negative situations. Once it gets into a negative space, it can take a while before it comes back to the neutral or positive position and it may have drained us of all of our physical and emotional strength.
Meditation is an exercise for our mind. Every time we try to sit, meditate and focus on our breath, we
notice the mind wanders off and plans the future or starts to think about the past. Being aware of where our mind is wandering to and then bringing focus back to our breath and the present moment is like doing push-ups for the mind. It is strengthening the muscle of the mind.
While a short-term meditation practice will help an individual reduce stress and anxiety, a consistent daily practice is recommended. If we only exercise once a month or less, we won’t experience much benefit. The same is true for meditation or any other practice. A healthy mind will help us see the glass as half full and see the growth potential in difficult situations. As our mind becomes nourished through meditation, it will help us improve our overall physical and emotional health and well-being.
For someone who is just beginning to meditate, Pandit recommends a daily 5-7 minute meditation practice where one can sit quietly, without any smart devices in close proximity, and focus on one’s ingoing and outgoing breaths. Deep breathing is a simple and powerful way to reduce the tension in our muscles and internal organs. We can also become aware of the different parts of our body and where we might be holding tension. This helps us get in touch with ourselves.
In essence, we have become experts at maintaining our external bodies, but have neglected the maintenance to the mind. This is likened to watering the leaves, flowers, and fruits of the tree but forgetting to water the root. If we can water the root, then all other parts of our existence will be taken care of.
Heather: On the Power of Letting Go and the Power of a Daily Mantra
Heather believes there are two major theories about what to do with all the chatter in our minds.
One is to let go of the thoughts in the mind, step back, let them carry on and pass through you and not give them all of your energy. In this way, you “control your mind” by dropping back away from it. Like when you are walking down the beach with a group of people, and they are chatting away. You start to hear the crashing waves of the ocean and the wind and then you feel like being quiet. Without saying anything dramatic, you hang back. You let them carry on ahead and you walk a little slower. This is similar to letting go of the thoughts in your mind, that constant dialogue. Letting it continue on through you. So it doesn’t get stuck.
The other theory is to control the mind through the power of suggestion, the use of mantra or daily affirmations. This requires a different flavor of effort. It can sometimes feel fake or disingenuous because you are literally working to carve out a new pattern in your being.
Your mind is like a giant campground with numerous hiking trails. If you have been repeating the same statements and stories in your mind over and over again, those thought currents are excavating a specific trail. It becomes clearly marked and its easy to walk again and again. You start to gravitate towards it subconsciously.
There are other trails that you could walk down, but the less you walk down them, the more overgrown they become, and the less you gravitate towards them. These trails are often trails of confidence, gratitude, forgiveness and contentment. Because we don’t use them often, they get overgrown.
The practice of repeating a mantra or an affirmation is a conscious way of clearing a certain trail in your mind that you want to be walking down. The more and more you repeat this statement, the sound vibrations of the words and their meanings remove anything that was blocking the trail previously and eventually it becomes the path you are frequenting, almost habitually. It takes the kind of effort that keeps grabbing the reigns and redirecting your mental energy down a path more preferred.
Both approaches require patience and consistency. Letting your thoughts pass through you can help you get out of the feeling that you are being kicked around by your mind and its constant dialogue. This can also feel very passive and doesn’t necessarily shift the phrases passing through the mind stream, it just changes your relationship to them. Controlling what the mind is saying by making it say something different (mantra or affirmation) can cultivate new patterns, but for most of us our habitual inner dialogues are so locked in, we need major patience to change our minds patterns of thinking.
Heather’s suggestion is to practice both at different times and for different reasons. When the thoughts and emotions are extremely loud and overwhelming, practice letting go. When your mind is less agitated or you are in a more settled place but still not at peace, work on repeating a mantra or an affirmation to gently carve out a new groove in your mind. The more you practice the easier it will be to know what to prescribe to yourself at any given time.