This idea that we are not our thoughts has been growing on me for a number of years. The base idea of all meditation is to transcend thought, and ultimately experience the power of being in the absolute here and now. So, I get it. Kind of. I don’t meditate nearly as much as I’d like to, but after hearing the transformative experience of a friend of mine who recently attended a week-long silent meditation retreat, it’s peaked my interest in being more disciplined with my practice (although I'll admit as someone who enjoys the sound of his own voice, I'm not sure I could keep quiet for a whole week!)
But why is there this growing movement towards meditation? Why are popular meditation apps like ‘headspace’ seeing an ever-increasing number of active users? What are we all seeking? Or perhaps more fittingly, what are we wanting to get away from?
In all my client work to date I can say with some certainty that most people’s suffering (and I include my own in this) is brought about by thoughts. I can find myself sat at my desk, as I am now, anxiously worried about all the things I’m not doing – like my final assignment for University (I’ll definitely start it tomorrow…). But these thoughts contribute absolutely nothing to the completion of the assignment itself. They aren't constructive. These thoughts lead me right into suffering – “you’re going to fail Uni if you don’t start this assignment.”, “You really should be working on that assignment.”, “I bet everyone else is more ahead than you are with the assignment.”
Perhaps some of these thoughts are more useful than others? The first one might be a useful prompt to get my arse into gear to avoid an undesirable outcome. But the other two are just thought-clutter. They serve no purpose other than to fan the flames of an already anxious mind.
In my experience, thought rarely takes me to a good place in terms of my emotional wellbeing. In thought, I find myself either emotive about what has happened in the past (and therefore cannot be changed) or stressed out about incredibly detailed, often catastrophic but 100% imagined future scenarios that have yet to even unfold (failing University being a current theme!). So that’s why I say I get it (kind of), because meditation seems to offer a temporary relief from this wrangling, by allowing you to realise that you are not your thoughts. That there is a 'you' above thought. How do you get to that point of realisation? Observation, it would seem. When you can find time to be present in the moment, sit with yourself and notice things like “wow, look how much my mind is spinning out right now, isn’t that fascinating?”, I’m reliably assured you’re on the road to less suffering. I sometimes like to imagine myself at the edge of a pool, sat in the lifeguard's chair, looking down at the unruly chaos that are my thoughts splashing around, but you know - whatever works for you!
This wasn’t meant to be a blog about meditation, but it’s gone that way and I’m going for it.
The world of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (thanks Dr Beck!) would suggest that our thoughts are what ultimately create our feelings. Without a thought, there can be no feeling. So, a lot of fearful thoughts result in feeling scared, anxious, worried, etc. Most of us (I think) would agree that it is our feelings that dictate our overall wellbeing. Got a load of fearful thoughts? You’re likely to be an anxious bunny. Here’s the kicker though – we are animals, so we are geared up to look for threats. We have a naturally-anxious disposition. Now take a look at the world we live in. On the face of it, it seems there’s a lot to be fearful of, right? Not to mention the fact that most governments use fear as a means of control (don’t get me started!). We’re basically already on the backfoot before we’ve even started. The truth is, thoughts (especially fearful ones) keep us trapped in either the past, or the future and with some 50,000+ thoughts per day, is it any wonder we fancy a break?
As I sit here and write, I’m trying to do so very consciously (or ‘mindfully’, if you want the lingo). That is to say I’m trying to immerse myself in the experience before me. I’m feeling the sensation of the keys under my fingers and watching as the words roll out on screen. This is a new practice. Typically, I’d be typing a little, then pausing to give time to all the other thoughts in my mind. If I let that happen just now, the following would unfold:
I need to clean the bathroom
The bag of salad in the fridge needs chucking out
I wonder how my neighbour repairs a puncture on his bike (the tyres seem so thin)
I wonder why I’m here and what my purpose is(!)
We live in a world that seems obsessed with “busy”. I’m not a great multitasker at the best of times, so when I get thought overload it tends to render me all but useless. But more importantly, I’m tired of my thoughts having this stranglehold over my being. I’m tired of being dictated to by this thought factory that can manufacture anything from the really useful to the absurd. The same good friend I mentioned earlier also coined the phrase “personal sovereignty” when we spoke the other day. That’s what she feels she’s regaining in her mindful and meditative practices. And I like that. I like the idea of putting myself back in the driving seat. I like the idea of choosing thoughts instead of them choosing me. I like the idea of not being at the mercy of my mind.
But I still have this big question - if I am not my thoughts (as so many mindful folks tell me), then who am I really? My sense intuitively tells me I’m something much more powerful than I could ever imagine – which means you are too.
I'm Adam, a U.K. based Life Coach working with people across the globe.
I struggle the same as every other human on the planet, but I think that’s what makes me credible. I’m just a regular guy, with people skills that I enjoy using. My sole focus is to help others improve their lives, which is ultimately how I improve mine.
I am a curious humanitarian and I speak as I find. I love to travel and I buzz off meeting new people. I live in Manchester, U.K.
Read more at www.mebeingadam.com.