Imagine that you are standing on the top of a bridge looking down on the highway beneath you. You see cars driving; trucks, cars, motorcycles, caravans, semi-trailers, and buses. They all seem to drive in a stable and organized way. Now imagine that all of those vehicles represent thoughts in your mind at any given time.
At the beginning of the year, I was struggling to make up my mind. I felt that my thoughts and emotions were controlling my everyday life. I was overwhelmed by all of my emotions such as anger, frustration, sadness, resentment, joy, happiness and all the other adjectives to describe oneself. It felt like my mind was like a highway but instead of a stable organized stream of cars, it was the complete opposite. It was a car crash every other week and had been that for the last year or so. It was complete havoc. As you can imagine, it was a continuous battle to keep everything stable. One day in March this year it all came crashing down. Everything on the highway crashed into each other. My result was a panic attack and an emotional reboot. First time ever. And you know when there is a car crash on the highway? It takes a few more crashes but at some point, the whole highway stands still until the rescue team comes.
In the aftermath, I realized that thinking you have control of your thoughts and emotions is not the same as actually having control. They say that pain is one of the greatest teachers and I can now imagine what they were talking about the whole time. I came to understand that my panic attack was a symptom of the underlying chaotic state of affairs in my conscious and my subconscious. It was about time to take action.
So I read about how the mind works and how thoughts and emotions affect our everyday life. I read about cognitive psychotherapy, mindfulness, neurochemistry and how it all works together.
I had to understand where it all came from so that I could understand and conceptualize in order to make a framework so that I could deal with future challenges. But the book that really changed my mind was the “Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. He writes about being present and to be an “observer” of your emotions and thoughts rather than a “victim”. He emphasizes that taking control of your thoughts and emotions by acknowledging that you have them, but to not act upon them. Imagine that one car can be a thought which consists of frustration about a thing someone said at work and that really winds you up. And normally you would spend the whole day going through different scenarios of how that person should have behaved towards you and how frustrated you are. To be an “observer” means that you let that car of frustration, pass and you do not get in nor do you analyze it. You just acknowledge that you become frustrated and just let it pass. It is all there is; a car on the highway, passing by. By merely acknowledging that a frustrating thought is just a passing vehicle allows you to free yourself from its constraining nature.
I started noticing my thoughts and my corresponding emotions related to those thoughts. An urge such as to look at my smartphone, my urge to justify why that person treated me poorly, my urge to entertain myself, my urge to try to blame the world for the problems I might be capable of solving myself.
I started noticing thoughts such as “Oh, I am hungry” and then started asking myself; “but shall I wait another hour before I snack?” or “I want to blame this person” but asking instead; “is there really any point? Should we let the past be the past and move on?”. Another scenario was; “I am on the subway and I have a 30-minute commute and I am very bored”. Instead, I prompted; “shall I give in or just enjoy the view of people and scenery?”. Being conscious about your thoughts will allow you to decide which thoughts and feelings you want to act upon and which that shall just remain what they are; thoughts. By changing the narrative you change the impact. To know that you can control your thoughts and the direction of these thoughts can be the difference between thinking you are a victim to thinking you are anything else but a victim. You decide how you want your thoughts to impact your life and you only. I can explain the concept to you but you will have to do the work and make it your own.
I changed the way I understand myself, my thoughts and feelings. To know that all your happiness, sadness, guilt or any other thought you might have is just that; a thought that you assign an emotional value. That will allow you to create an understanding which can lead to a framework of how to deal with any thought arising.
This is what I believe mindfulness to be all about, to be mindful of the thoughts and feelings within oneself. To be more present, enjoy more, feel more and act upon the thoughts and feelings that you want to because you have made a decision to do so. I have an exercise to you; the next time you have an urge to check your phone, stop for a minute and ask yourself: “did I actually want to check my phone or did I just do it as an impulse?”. By asking that simple question, you have changed the narrative, you have begun the first step to become more mindful and thus living a more conscious life that might change you forever. Good luck!