“What a liberation to realize that the ‘voice in my head’ is not who I am. ‘Who am I, then?’ The one who sees that.”- Eckhart Tolle
Every day we come face to face with situations that stress us out and challenge us to stay in control of our thoughts, feelings and emotions.
At those times the world around us can seem frantic and unfair. We can so easily get swept up in what’s happening.
However, with a little practice we can find a way to peace and contentment in the middle of any storm.
Consider George Mumford’s analogy in his book ‘The Mindful Athlete.’ He talks about positioning yourself in the eye of a hurricane.
This is the one place where you can sit, make clear decisions and respond wisely while the storm is raging around you.
Please be quiet!
Recently I had a situation that challenge me to stay calm and in control.
My wife and I were excited, after a year of Covid restrictions, to be going on a date night to the movies.
Everything leading up to taking our seats was fantastic. We had the dream run in traffic to get to the cinema complex. We got the best parking spot directly outside. And, to top it all, we got a complimentary upgrade by the theatre management.
What could possibly go wrong?
The lights go down and the movie starts. I take a deep breath and settle in then the problem starts.
Fellow patrons sitting opposite decided to have a running commentary throughout the movie- ‘shoot me now!’
As the film progressed their interactions seemed to me to get more and more animated impacting my enjoyment of the movie.
What could I do?
If I say something they may shut up or they may fire up.
Whatever the outcome, whether favourable or not, the reality for me is I know the minute I choose to confront the issue all possible enjoyment of the movie will be lost.
So what can I do from a mindfulness perspective that will allow me to stay present and focused on the movie and not them?
Understanding my inner world
At those times, if you haven’t noticed, you have a mental dialogue going on inside your head.
“How selfish are those people? I can’t believe they keep talking! ”
Always frustrating and challenging to address in the moment.
However, for true growth to happen it’s important in those moments to firstly step back and examine objectively the mental chatter in your head.
By observing objectively we start to see the internal voice that will always become very active causing an increase in fearful anxious energy.
This is easy to see when you become angry.
When an uncomfortable energy builds up inside, it’s natural to want to do something about it. The internal voice gets busy because you are not happy inside.
Internal talking helps to some degree to release the energy. But, more importantly, what you will begin to notice is your thoughts have no effect on anything or anyone except you.
They simply make you feel better or worse about what is going on in the now.
The reality of the situation
In reality when you are thinking you are always free to create whatever narrative you want. This inner world is under your control. What you end up experiencing is a personal presentation based on your beliefs of how things should happen.
Your mental management of the outer experience allows you the opportunity to buffer reality.
You filter and control the experience of reality so that it fits how you want to see it in your mind.
If the world doesn’t line up with what you expect, you internally judge it, complain about it and then select what to do. This gives you a sense of empowerment.
Basically, you re-create the outside world inside your mind to fit a more desirable outcome.
As an example, I know my thinking mind thinks that by telling those people to be quiet I can easily get back to the movie with no further disruptions and just enjoy.
Then again what if I choose not to do this?
What if I decided not to take action based on my expectations or beliefs?
What if I choose to become the witness and just observer my thinking?
The fight or flight response
The reason we do what we do is based on our minds biological wiring to protect us. It’s our fight or flight response when faced with perceived danger.
Basically our mind is like a big computer full of files that represent memories. It processes current experiences based on what it knows from past events in your life. It searches the memory for matches that fit with your views of the past.
This creates an appearance of control.
If your mind fails to do this you become very uncomfortable. It feels vulnerable and exposed. It needs some form of reference to guide actions.
True personal growth is about transcending this part of you that is not ok and needs protection.
This is done by constantly remembering that you are the one inside observing the talking voice.
This is the way out.
To be the one aware that you are watching the internal chatter is to stand on the threshold of ultimate control.
Used in the right manner the same mental voice that has been a source of anxiety, distraction and neurosis can become the launching pad for your awakening.
Stop thinking in terms of “I”
Your inner development is totally reliant upon realizing that peace and contentment is only achievable by stopping thinking about yourself.
You are ready to grow when you come to terms with the fact that the “I” who is always talking inside will never be happy and content.
It always has a problem with anything and everything.
It needs to protect, hence it sees the world as unsafe.
You can see this play out every day.
Be honest with yourself. When was the last time there was nothing bothering you?
Before this problem there was another and no doubt when this one has run out of steam there will be the next.
Problems do not go away until you are free from the part within that has so many problems.
When you have a problem disturbing you, don’t question, “What should I do about it?”
By doing this you have fallen into the trap of believing that there is a real problem outside you that needs to be addressed.
If you want to achieve peace in the face of your problem, you need to understand why you perceive a certain situation to be a problem.
The Subject-Object Relationship
This process of seeing something requires a subject-object relationship.
The subject is the witness. It is the one that sees what is happening- You.
The object is what you are seeing- The inner disturbance.
This act of maintaining objective awareness of the inner problem is always more beneficial than losing yourself in the outer situation.
You think that if you change things outside, you’ll be okay. However reality never grants you that luxury.
We can closely examine my predicament with the people talking during the movie.
If I decided to ask them to be quiet they may have stopped, but this outcome would probably have caused a knock on effect to a more disruptive internal problem for me.
I would have found it hard to focus and enjoy the remainder of the movie. My mind would have gone into overdrive playing out a number of outcomes that probably would never happen.
I may have resented taking action or I may have become more angry and judgemental.
Nobody has ever truly become okay by changing things outside.
There will always be the next problem. It’s guaranteed!
The only real solution is to take the seat of consciousness witness and change your beliefs or ideas on which you base your judgment of things.
Take home message…
To attain true inner freedom you must be able to objectively observe your problems rather than being lost in them.
No solution can possibly exist while you are lost in the energy of a problem.
You cannot deal well with a situation when you are getting anxious or angry.
The first problem you have to deal with is your own triggered reaction.
You will not be able to solve anything outside until you know how the situation affects you inside.
Problems generally are not what they appear to be.
You will come to realise that the real issue is that there is something inside of you that can have a problem with almost anything.
You have to break the habit of thinking the solution to your problem is to rearrange things on the outside world.
The only permanent way forward is to go inside and let go of the part of you that seems to have problems with reality.
Once you can do that you will be free to deal with what is left.
Do you find yourself easily triggered by external situations?
If this is an area of your life that needs attention please reach out.
I’m here to help!