Every now and again, I have a real breakthrough on my path to more peace of mind. As you know, peace of mind has been my life’s goal even when I didn’t know it, when all I had was constant anxiety.
Now that I know I’m after peace, and even have a few tools to accomplish it, I still only achieve it a small percentage of the time.
Why IS that? Am I – are we – so attached to suffering that we prefer it? It certainly seems that discomfort becomes comfortable, familiar, and thus preferred. Because otherwise, we have to change something, right? And change is scary, and difficult
So back to the breakthrough. One of the techniques I’ve used to calm my mind is replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. Often, I had to “act as if” I thought this would help – which was a way of fooling myself into trying something new. Sort of a “just do it” attitude. When walking to work, instead of letting my automatic anxious thoughts take over (“Oh my God, I have to get so much done today, and what if people don’t cooperate, and I can’t perform, and then I get in trouble for it…”), I’d consciously decide to repeat the serenity prayer (“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”) in my head. As you might imagine, the latter works a lot better for calming the mind.
Recently, I was talking to a friend about my still rather persistent anxiety, which stems from wanting to control everything in my life, including other people. She made a suggestion that stopped me in my tracks.
What if, EVERY time an anxious thought arises, I replace it immediately with a positive thought or prayer?
This had never occurred to me. I always thought taking a few minutes in the morning to meditate and clear my mind was enough to start the day and carry me through. But if I’m really honest, my thinking mind takes over pretty much as soon as I stand up…
So here’s the bottom line:
To have more serenity, STOP THINKING.
Stop thinking does not mean to walk around in a trance state all day.
Rather, it’s a twist on what I imagine meditation is all about (since I’ve never developed a solid meditation habit, I’m only guessing here).
When the mind starts running you ragged – telling you all the things you’ve got to do, pushing you to higher and higher standards that simply aren’t possible, insisting you’re not doing well enough in the eyes of others, and on and on – hit the pause button.
In the words of Willy Wonka, “Wait! Stop! Reverse that.”
In our case, the case for peace of mind, “Pause. Stop that thought. Replace it!
What can we replace those thoughts with?
- Anything that works for you.
The point is – put something else in there, and do it fast. Don’t let those anxious or negative thoughts take root. Tear them up quickly, and plant something else. Something positive.
Now I’m not saying this is the answer – there’s more to the effort than replacing thoughts – like working on changing one’s belief system (but that’s a post for another time). But it’s a start, and it’s a practice that opens the door to change.
For me, it’s working. I’m staying with negative thoughts for less time. I’m letting things go, much faster than usual. I’m less focused on others and their behavior. And I’m more trusting that things will work out.
Because here’s another secret:
Our mind is not our only power source – it’s not the only part of us that makes things happen.
I used to think it was. After all, it’s an American truism that we can make our lives be exactly what we want through willpower and effort. But the thinking mind is only part our sum total. There’s a lot more that we know – through life experience, through listening to others, through trusting the universe to give us answers and direction when we need them.
Letting go of control, thinking, and worrying gives us room for that other knowledge to arise. But we have to give it space.
So try it.
The next time you start worrying – pause. Say a prayer. An affirmation. Sing a song or hum to yourself. Open a book you find inspirational and read it. Look online for your favorite quotes. Watch a clip from your favorite movie. Tell a joke. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s positive. Stick that in your brain, and tell your thinking to take a hike, at least for this moment.
And if it comes back the next moment, do it again.
Eventually, you’ll have more and more space in your brain for calm and peace, and serenity will become a more constant companion.
That’s where I’m heading. I’m looking for you beside me on the path.
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