UNIVERSE WITHIN by Gwen Randall-Young
Have you ever been listening to a song and it suddenly became so irritating you had to flip to the next song? If you had continued listening, you would have become annoyed and irritable. Sometimes your thoughts are like that when you are worrying, replaying an incident or reliving past hurts.
With a listening device like an Ipod, we program the music and we are in control of what we hear. Interestingly, with our minds, we have not consciously programmed the content and most often it controls us. Unless we are practising mindfulness, our thoughts can be like a series of bad dreams we have while awake and we can’t wake up from them.
The mind is great at taking a thought about a financial worry, a job or relationship concern and creating all kinds of worst-case or “what if?” scenarios. A worry thought is like a little fire and each possible negative outcome we imagine is like throwing another log on the fire. It keeps getting bigger and we may well have more than one of these infernos going at the same time.
And they’re not just worry thoughts; sometimes they are what I call “bully thoughts.” This is when we beat ourselves up and think of all the ways we are not good enough or we compare ourselves to others who we think have it better.
All of these thoughts have a way of taking over our consciousness like a propaganda machine. But it is not only our thoughts that are affected. Our mood and emotions are coloured by these thoughts and our physiology is affected too; stress chemicals are produced in the body and our immune system is suppressed.
Our view of the world and sense of reality are impacted by our thoughts. If we think people cannot be trusted, we will be suspicious and guarded in our dealings with others. If we argued with a partner and we keep thinking of all the things we do not like about him or her, we only make things worse.
For some, the problem is not so much the content of the thoughts, but rather the quantity of thoughts. They just cannot turn off their thoughts even when trying to sleep.
All this thinking about problems can be helped by learning to press the “mute” button on our minds. We can think of it as “thought stopping.” Our thoughts actually take us away from our true self, whereas, when we stop thinking, we can tune in to our essential selves.
It is like when you see mountains or a beautiful lake and you just stop and look. You take a deep breath and feel so peaceful. It is partly the scenery that makes us feel so good, but it is also the fact that we have momentarily stopped our thoughts. Meditators know this; that is why they spend time just sitting in silence.
If you do not meditate, you can simply practise using your imaginary “mute” or even your “delete” button when you are having negative thoughts. If it is a busy mind that keeps you agitated, learn to give it time-outs. At sleep time, turn it off completely. (Go to www.gwen.ca for a sound clip of hypnosis for “Quieting the Busy Mind.”)
Gwen Randall-Young is an author and psychotherapist in private practice. For more of Gwen’s articles and information about her books, Self Care CDs and the new Creating Healthy Relationships series, visit www.gwen.ca. See display ad this issue.