2020 has been a difficult year for many. We not only became witness to a pandemic that may not go away anytime soon despite vaccines. We also saw the powerful force of nature in climate disasters, when we live in a way that departs from nature. We also saw how fragile our minds can be in the face of external changes. But looking deeper, we can also see our minds, without these adverse changes we are also capable of stress and inner conflicts. But not everyone is clinically depressed. Those who need clinical help with stress were once only suffering normal stress. Perhaps it would be better to become our own psychologist before sinking deeper into darkness.
Seeing The Effects of Ill Being
Many people suffer a lack of well being today. But many are not victims of external circumstances. I was sharing mindfulness with a group once and one of the participants commented she actually enjoys stress. Stress makes her feel alive and pushes her forward. The idea here is not about labeling stress as good or not good. Stress is not an idea. Stress is a condition.
Seeking strong sensations in our minds and bodies through pleasurable pursuits or melancholy is strangely something we are used to. It often is not something we noticed until our health suffers from excessive sensations of depression, stress, and pleasures. For example, too much alcohol can harm our bodies, even though it gives pleasurable sensations to excite the mind. Too much rich food does the same. Too much stress (in pursuit of goals or of carrying burdens) also has the same effects.
Unfortunately, it does take a lot of pain and suffering before we may awake to what stress and excess pleasures can really do to us. Until we see clearly that we never really breathed properly, or that an agitated mind offers no rest to the body, we may continue to coddle the habits of seeking stress and excess pleasures.
Being Overly Positive
Most of us preach the advantages of positive thinking. We like and cling to positive thoughts and optimism. In a way, this becomes negative in itself. Negative in that we refuse to look at reality and accept facts.
Although it is a bad example, Donald Trump has shown the world the defects of positive thinking. Friends often tell me, it is unhealthy to think that I am growing old. I am not saying it is healthy to dwell on aging, but my awareness of aging comes not from my mind but from the body’s decline in years. It is something I have realized but not dwell upon. Realizing aging made me see the vanity in the pursuits of temporal life. It made me question more the purpose of life and its numerous distractions.
To not see aging and its effects but to continually think one is young and able to pursue youthful pursuits could blind one to reality and miss out on the deeper purpose of life. One can’t genuinely ask – what has all these desirings of power, fame, money, property, delightful sights, taste, touch and smell led me to today? How far can one run in order to feel alive, when life is in reality temporal?
The Reality Behind Your Pursuits
Have you ever noticed how you cling to one goal after another? Even chasing after retirement and enjoyment of doing nothing but lying on a beach is a pursuit. Why do chasing these things excite us and make us think that stress in these activities is good? If you look deeper, you might see it is because doing these things give us a feeling of being alive because deep down we know death could come anytime and nothing is secure.
What about pursuing things you truly love such as painting, running, or sports? When we do things without a reward, we truly become one with the activity and detached from the outcome. In this case, we are not chasing to manifest something in order to feel alive because we are not seeking a result.
What if you are not pursuing anything but working to support your family and you feel stressed? The stress comes from the idea that you might be sacrificing yourself or something you like to do in exchange for your family’s survival. Holding this view could annoy you every time your family behaves in a way you find irresponsible. That is because you hold to the idea of your sacrifice. But you see, no one asked for your sacrifice. You could choose to be irresponsible but you didn’t. Therefore, you can choose to find small joys in your work instead of holding onto the idea that you are working for your family.
How To Be Your Own Psychologist?
Becoming your own psychologist means knowing your own mind intimately. Of course, before you want to know your own mind there must be a reason. It could be the unbearable pressure of stress. It could be ill health or the realization that no matter what we strive towards, we cannot avoid death and still yet do not know what it means to live happily.
To be able to see how the mind works, you must be able to let go of thoughts. It is difficult to realize that most of our thoughts do nothing to serve us well but yet we cling fervently to them. That is because we live in a world of opinions and others’ thoughts through movies, advertisements, social media, schools to books. Without exposure to these things, you may fear being an outcast of society for there is nothing much to contribute to a conversation anymore. But truth is, clinging to these distractions do not help us see our own minds.
Meditation is the first step for you to see your mind. When your mind is sufficiently calmed, you will become aware when your thoughts are running. You will find your thoughts running without your having willed it. You will also find unfriendly thoughts arising automatically without your wanting it. If you were unaware, you might have already had an outburst with those thoughts in situations you dislike.
You may realize how memory works. Your mind plays an image or narrative repeatedly when you place attention on a certain event. The strength of the narrative that runs in your mind depends on whether you invested emotionally to the event. You may also start to realize that the first thoughts that come to your mind in the morning are the same ones you fell asleep the night before.
The Effects Of Being Your Own Psychologist
When you realize you do not will most of the thoughts that arise in your mind, you become a master of your mind and are no longer a slave.
We all know that slaves do not have a choice to exercise their free-will. When you become a master of your thoughts, you will also have power over the body that does nothing except to keep declining and bring inconveniences. You will be able to see the thoughts that cause trouble and ignore them. You also have a choice to change your thoughts and bring well-being to yourself instead. It is like seeing a hot iron. You avoid touching it to prevent getting burnt.
All of these come with mindfulness practice over time. Just like how it took years for our society’s culture to seep into our being, it too takes years of practice for you to become a master of your mind.