Calming the Mind

Do you have a mind that runs 24/7? Does that voice in your head never stop talking? Do you find yourself uncomfortable with silence or stillness? The answer to all three of these questions was a big YES for me!

To fully access who and what we truly are, it is necessary for us to calm down our “monkey” minds so that our authentic Self can be heard. The first step in this process is to understand that we have two minds – the thinking or rational mind and the creative, intuitive mind. For many years, particularly in the west, we humans have overlooked the importance of intuition, and under-exploited the potential that the intuitive mind has to contribute in areas as diverse as decision making, team work, entrepreneurship, ethics and leadership. As Albert Einstein said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

The thinking mind is linear, reactive, judgmental and typically controlled by fear. This part of the mind shouts for our attention, drowning out the quiet voice of our intuitive mind. Operating from this rational, left-brained perspective, we over think our problems, not realizing that it is our thinking that has caused the problems in the first place. This is a condition that Angeles Arrien refers to as “instinct injury.” We damage ourselves by mistrusting and not listening to our instincts and intuition. It is not that the rational mind is unimportant. It is essential! The problem is that we overuse it.

The solution is to calm down our thinking mind and return to our natural state of leading our lives from our non-linear and loving intuitive mind. From here, we can draw on the rational mind only as needed. Meaningful change can and will happen when we consciously work toward strengthening our connection to our intuitive mind and confidently permitting it to expand our vision of what is possible. Most importantly, by committing ourselves to the cultivation of our intuitive minds, we can access a place of peace and calm that contains within it the power of creation.

So, how do we do this? How do we break away from the shackles of this “left-brained” thinking and begin to embrace our intuition and resulting creativity? Over the past several years, I have used a four step process to reshape my approach to life by utilizing the two parts of my mind differently. This is how I did it! I hope my sharings give you some ideas that you can use as well.

Mind Dumping:   It’s truly amazing how much “trash” we unknowingly carry around with us in our minds that keep us locked into old patterns of thought and behavior that block our creativity. This was certainly true for me. I always considered myself very analytical and not creative at all. But, come to find out, we are all creative; we just have to let ourselves be. The first step I took in accessing this essential part of my being is by working through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

This entire course was very instrumental in helping me recover my creativity and begin to trust my intuition. But the element that helped the most was my daily journaling via a process Julia calls Morning Pages which are three 8×11 pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing that are written every morning for at least 90 days. Now you may be thinking I don’t have anything to say. Ok, so you write that down. Once you start writing, you don’t stop for 30 minutes; you just dump out onto the page any thought or emotion that moves through your mind. Again, and this is important, you don’t stop writing! And you will truly be amazed as to what comes out on that page. Here is a short excerpt from one of my Morning Pages:

“10/6/07 Well, I survived both Rolfing and therapy back to back yesterday. Caroline really focused on my upper body, arms and hands. When she was doing my right hand/wrist, all the trauma from having intravenous injections as a kid came out. I truly was traumatized by those horrible things. They made me feel helpless and scared – like I wanted to shrink into nothingness. I then went to my therapist, Ruth. We first talked about the new dating development with Jim and I shared how weary and tired I am from dealing with all the back and forth. I’m just trying to hold space as he bounces all around. We then went on to an EMDR session and I tried to access feelings and sensations about Dr. Henry but all that came up was rage and fury toward my mother. I was just never good enough for her or at least that is the way I feel and what came out. I’ve always felt like “damaged goods.” Where in the world did that come from?”

As Julia Cameron says, “There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages. They are not meant to be art or even writing. They are not to be read by anyone else than you. They are a vehicle for you to write down whatever comes to mind. Nothing is too stupid, too petty or too weird to be included. The Pages are not supposed to sound smart, although sometimes very valuable ideas and concepts emerge. Usually, they are negative, frequently fragmented, self-pitying, angry and even silly. Good! These Morning Pages can clear your mind of all the unnecessary and be the primary tool for your creative recovery.” I still do Morning Pages about three mornings a week and it has been instrumental in my developing Seeing The Light. Actually, that is where the initial idea came from – my Morning Pages!

So buy yourself a large, spiral notebook and commit to filling three pages each morning for 90 days. Or better yet, complete the entire Artist Way course that is available in most bookstores or online. You can do the course on your own as I did. Or, there are Artist Way classes and self-study groups in many communities that you may join. Let me hear from you as you journey through this very mentally freeing process.

Accessing Emotional Freedom:  After unearthing many of these hidden and self-destructive thoughts through my writings, I found I needed a way to effectively deal with the negative emotions that accompany them. Thankfully, I was led to a healing modality called the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). EFT is a powerful new discovery that combines two well established sciences: mind-body medicine and acupuncture (without needles). In essence, EFT is an emotional version of acupuncture wherein specific meridian points are stimulated by tapping on them with our fingertips. While we are tapping, we are also saying positive affirmations that counter a targeted negative emotion or physical pain that we are experiencing.

I had been hearing about “this tapping thing,” thought it sounded weird and couldn’t imagine how it worked. But I have a rule. When I hear about something three times from three different sources, I am supposed to look into it. I have to say, I broke my rule with EFT. I think it took my hearing about it five or six times before I began to investigate. But am I glad I did. I was dealing with the emotional aftermath of finally discovering at age 55 the root of my anger and lifetime need for total control – childhood sexual abuse. The EFT website has a free training manual I downloaded and it also has a search function to find a practitioner. I found that there are regular practitioners and what are called EFT Masters. It turned out that one of the few Masters based in the US happened to be located in my community.

A lot of EFT sessions are done over the telephone; thus, physical proximity is not necessary. But I wanted to look eye to eye with this person and learn as much as I could about this new technique. Her name is Jan Luther and she truly is a master of emotional freedom. I worked with her for three years and released so many of the negative emotions that were keeping my mind agitated and my resulting behaviors less than desirable. What was most amazing to me is that EFT can do in one or two sessions what can take years to accomplish in traditional talk therapy.

The best way I have found to describe what EFT has done for me is that it has helped me change my mind about the stories I tell myself. I now look on everything in my past as a process of initiation rather than victimhood. And I am able to view all those that hurt, angered or offended me as some of my greatest teachers. This new way of looking at life has allowed my mind to calm and made it easier for me to access my intuitive creativity.

I encourage you to explore EFT for yourself, particularly if you are dealing with deep seated emotional issues as I was. And I highly recommend Jan Luther. She is available for private sessions and also conducts tele-classes and group workshops. If you contact her, please tell her I recommended her to you.

Thought Deconstruction:  After my fifth session with Jan, she said “Martha, you are now ready for the work of Byron Katie.” I didn’t know who that was and really forgot she had said it. But shortly thereafter, my good friend, Anna from Canada, came for a visit and just happened to bring me a very appropriate hostess gift – Byron Katie’s first two books, Loving What Is and I Need Your Love – Is That True?  Clearly, it was time for me to find out what the “work of Byron Katie” was all about.

In reading her books and learning to do what she calls “The Work,” I realized something very important. I am not upset by what happens to me, but by my thoughts about what happens. If I could learn to deconstruct these thoughts then I could be released from my negative patterning and move further toward an intuitive approach to life. And that is exactly what “The Work” does.

It teaches us that the only time we suffer is when we believe a thought that argues with reality. If you think about it, wanting reality to be different than it is is hopeless. In essence, all the stress that we feel is caused by our mental arguing with what is. “The Work” teaches us to love what is by inquiring into our thoughts and beliefs with four simple questions and what is called a turnaround.

The four questions are:
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely be sure that it is true?
3. How do you feel when you think that thought?
4. What would you be without that thought?
After asking and honestly answering those four questions about a specific thought, then you turn that thought around to see if the turnaround is actually more accurate.

Here is an example of Katie doing “The Work” with a man who feels that he was abandoned as a baby by his father.

Now, any time I have a negative thought, judgment or emotion I immediately do “The Work” on it and within minutes, if not seconds, it is gone. This approach helps keep my thinking mind calm so that I can access and operate from my intuitive mind. And you can do this same inquiry process for yourself. Just get a hold of Katie’s book Loving What Is and start practicing The Work. If you want a sounding board while you do this, please contact me and I will be happy to guide you through the process.

Meditative Mind:  My area of focus now in continuing to calm my thinking mind is in the development of a daily meditation practice. There are many documented benefits of meditation through its ability to bring us into a healthy state of relaxation. These benefits include a decrease in heart rate, respiration rate, pulse rate and a drop in the major stress hormone, cortisol. Also, meditation brings our brainwaves into an alpha state, which is a level of consciousness that promotes healing. So given all these benefits, shouldn’t we all be meditating? Easier said than done!

As we all know, our minds don’t like to be quiet. They like to stay busy, busy busy reacting to memories from the past or being preoccupied with the future, both of which are major sources of chronic stress that impact our health. The mind will do anything to stay out of the present moment. But little by little, as we commit ourselves to daily meditation the mind begins to settle down and this allows us to keep our attention pleasantly anchored in the now.

All meditation techniques can be grouped into two basic approaches: concentrative meditation and mindfulness meditation. Concentrative meditation focuses the attention on the breath, an image or a sound in order to still the thinking mind and allow a greater awareness and clarity to emerge from the intuitive mind. The simplest form of this type of meditation is to just sit quietly and focus on the breath going in and going out. Mindfulness meditation, to me, is more rigorous because as Dr. Joan Borysenko says it ”involves opening our attention to becoming aware of the continuously passing parade of sensations, feelings, images, thoughts, sounds and smells without becoming involved in thinking about them.” We just sit quietly and simply watch whatever goes through our mind. This is a wonderful way to develop what is called witness consciousness and either approach will help you achieve a calm, meditative mind.

To start a meditation practice, it a good idea to go to a meditation class or to purchase a meditation soundtrack to follow. I am particularly drawn to How to Meditate by Pema Chodron who is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost meditation teachers. The basic guidelines for meditation are to:
1) Find a comfortable place so you may sit with your back straight. Don’t lie down or slouch to prevent yourself from falling asleep.
2) Make sure that you won’t be disturbed by closing the door and turning off phones.
3) Close your eyes.
4) Start breathing deeply and fully through your nose, eventually achieving a natural breathing rhythm.
5) Focus on your breath and nothing else. It helps, as you develop this focus, to center your attention on your nostrils right where the air comes in and goes out.
6) You can also say to yourself as you breathe, “Breathe in – relax, breathe out – release.”
7) When a thought comes, acknowledge the thought, let it pass, and go back to focusing on your breath.

You may start by meditating this way for just 5 minutes per day. It’s best to try to do it at the same time of day if you can. As your mind begins to relax you can expand your meditation time, working up to 20 minutes twice per day, if possible.

These four techniques – mind dumping, EFT, thought deconstruction and meditation – have all been very instrumental in helping me calm my restless, thinking mind and connect with and listen to the gift of my intuitive mind. Please join me in helping make this a more peaceful world by embracing some or all of these techniques. I will leave you with the following Metta (lovingkindness) prayer that I use to begin and end my meditation practice.


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