There are many reasons we practice meditation. One of the most widely touted is its ability to help us manage stress and feel relaxed. This is all well and good; however, I think the most important benefit is that it teaches us to break our identification with our minds. We watch; we breathe; we observe our thoughts float by like clouds. When a particular thought captures our attention,
we calmly notice and let it go.
Many if not most people are continually tortured by a steady stream of thoughts letting them know they don’t measure up: not attractive enough, not loveable enough, not rich, and on and on. Actually, our culture encourages this, because when people are happy with themselves, they won’t buy much, so better to have us worried that we smell bad, could use some products or services to look younger (as if looking our age is a bad thing), and keeping up on the latest trends.
These punishing thoughts in our minds have their origins in our childhoods as well as in the culture. Our parents may have been well-meaning, yet they instilled in us beliefs that we are not okay as we are, or that there is something wrong with our natural human urges and desires. Some of our parents were not particularly well-meaning and in response to their cruelty, we made decisions that affect us today in negative ways. Children who were treated unkindly often bring to adulthood unhelpful beliefs such as that they are fatally flawed, that love is not due to them, that love is painful and abusive. These ideas are learned from poor parenting; they are not inherent in themselves.
Part of the process of overcoming personal pain and suffering is to learn to stop believing every thought that you think. It is time to put to use the techniques you have learned while meditating. We cultivate an attitude of the witness to our thoughts, rather than being identified with them. When we notice our unhelpful beliefs, such as “I’m no good” or “No one loves me,” we gently notice that this is just the mind doing its thing, breathe, and let go.
The mind is designed to be useful as a problem solver, not to run our lives. The mind is very good with challenges such as how to build a bridge, or how to double a cookie recipe. It is not good at love or happiness or meaning. It can assist us with those pursuits, but is limited in its ability. You, not your mind, are meant to be in the driver’s seat of your life. Your mind is a helpful tool, when you learn how to use it by not believing everything you think.
© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth