THE POWER & MINDFULNESS OF THOUGHT
“When you think about the future, Do you focus on what can go wrong? or Do you imagine how you want it to be?"
Thoughts are just thoughts - but they control how we feel, our energy and how we act. Your inner dialogue determines how you feel about yourself. To become aware of the thoughts that affect you, you should practice mindfulness for a while each day. Sit upright, close your eyes and focus on breathing for a few minutes. Notice what thoughts you have, without judging them and without following them. Just let the thoughts come and go, while you focus on the breath. Notice how it silences and calms down within you.
They do not always reflect reality. But your thoughts can determine what reality you live in. Your inner framework, the story you choose to live, becomes your life.
The ability to look at thoughts as just thoughts, and then being able to choose which thoughts you want to act on and give space, helps you on several levels in life. We must always remember that we live with DNA that was built for a time well before the information age. When we had to look for information. Today we are overwhelmed by information and need mental training to avoid drowning in it. Today, instead, we need to focus, find methods to block out information, screen and choose what is important and find ways to rest our brains.
Together with my fantastic adventure colleague Annelie, I’ve guided silent retreats in various forms for several years. During these retreats, we help people explore what happens when they break the most common pattern there is: talking and using the mobile. The retreat varies in length between one and ten days, but each one has similar arrangements and follows the same principles. The experience is based on the meditation technique Vipassana, but we have modified it to more easily meet the modern practitioner and lower the threshold to participate. For example, participants do not need to sleep on concrete beds with wooden pillows, they do not have to go up at four o'clock and scour the toilets and they do not sit in meditation for several hours in a row. We also let the participants drink coffee and practice light yoga. However, the first thing that happens at the retreat is that the participants' mobile phones are collected. They must also abstain from other technical aids, television, books, notepads or drinking alcohol. Instead, they are offered guided meditation, yoga classes and workshops on mental training in various forms. Everyone lives in single rooms, is served vegetarian food and spend time in nature.
The purpose of the retreat is never for the participants to become more introverted or less communicative. The goal is, on the contrary, to make room for reality outside them, by becoming more true and grounded by their inner reality. By meeting oneself, one becomes stronger in meeting others.
What also happens is that our universe becomes anything but silent. When we can no longer spend our energy by talking, it builds up within us. Suddenly we hear our own thoughts more clearly and we notice the details of sounds all around us. Our retreats are located in quiet places; it would be unbearable with the sounds of high traffic, screeching salon music or rattling crowds. But they are always located in places where there are the sounds of people. Being in silence yourself and observing people is extremely useful. It is only when we hear how noisy talk can be, how much chatter that just runs out of people's mouths. Talk that doesn't mean anything but kidnaps the air and the attention of others in sheer thoughtlessness.
How we talk, how much, how focused and how much air and space we offer others says so much about how we think (or don't think). Our thoughts are reflected in our way of talking. Many words, and few breaths, are a sign of a cluttered mind. To discipline one’s talk is to discipline one’s thinking. When we have the opportunity to think something through to the end, to complete a thought, it becomes calmer within us and the pulse stabilizes. We also become more present in meetings with others, more efficient in our assignments and more consciously present with others – in such moments as eating, exercise, movement, driving in the car, cooking and playtime.
Being able to put events and situations into perspective and being able to choose thoughts of gratitude are powerful thinking tools. You could say that the great mental mindfulness muscle is your ability to make choices; identifying that you have choices, and acting on them. The opposite is what we call learned helplessness, when we do not think we can affect our situation, when we no longer think it matters what we do, we are heading into a state of depression.