Mindfulness and observing thoughts

open head

The first step to working with unproductive thoughts is to become aware of what thoughts you are having. Just as when you are speaking, if you wish to eliminate filler words such as uh, um, or and – the first step is to catch it happening.

Here is exercise to observe your thoughts from the insight meditation center:

During the next week, spend a two-hour period tracking the kinds of things you think about. Find some way to remind yourself every few minutes to notice what you are thinking. Are the thoughts primarily self-referential or primarily about others? Do they tend to be critical or judgmental? What is the frequency of thoughts of “should” or “ought”? Are the thoughts mostly directed to the future, to the past, or toward fantasy? Do you tend more toward optimistic thoughts or pessimistic ones? Do your thoughts tend to be apprehensive or peaceful? Contented or dissatisfied? This is not an exercise in judging what you notice, but in simply noticing.

I think the last sentence is key: don’t be discouraged by your thoughts, just notice what comes out. If you get discouraged, realize you are creating negative thoughts… about having negative thoughts. And then e-mail me. I think it’s really funny, and it will brighten my day.

Daydreaming guide

man sitting

Daydreaming is usually considered lazy, unproductive and childish. As adults, we ought to maximize our productivity and the use of our time. Even worse, the multi-tasker is the modern-day business hero – we are encouraged to multi-task, jumping back and forth between multiple tasks and stimuli at an alarming rate.

Stepping back from this insane drive and getting in touch with our dreams can help us to understand what gets us excited. Daydreaming is free, easy, and relaxing… and opens up a new creative realm where we can free our imagination from the daily rules and expectations.

Idiot’s guide to daydreaming:

  • Find a quiet space.
  • Eliminate all possible distractions. (People, phones, computers, deadlines, etc.)
  • Make a commitment to yourself to refrain from thinking about work and what needs to get done.
  • Take a moment to breathe deeply into your abdomen. Watch your breath for a minute.
  • Watch your thoughts for minute to become even more present. If you have trouble with this, ask yourself, “what is the next thought that is entering my mind?” and observe what comes.
  • Let go. Let your mind wander freely.

Any questions? Shoot me an e-mail. I am an expert.

Become the change you desire

“Become the change you desire.” triggered the thought for the day – thanks to Zen Chill on instant manifestation referring to a Steve Pavlina podcast.

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What was the last thing you tried to change in your life? How well did it work? Did it have a lasting effect?

Did you say, “I want to lose ten pounds. I must go on a diet.”
Or, “I want to be productive. I better start working hard.”
Or, “I want to be rich. I need to a better job and to start saving.”

These three have something in common: they require you to force yourself to change behaviors to achieve your goal. They reinforce that you are not what you desire:

  • you are overweight (or why would you need a diet?)
  • you are unproductive (or why demand the extra effort?)
  • you are lacking money (or why would you need more?)

Attempts to change behaviors usually fail. Why? Because they aren’t in line with your belief systems about who you are.

Instead, become the change you desire. Imagine it. Start acting like it. Your behaviors will naturally reflect yourself and bring you goal to you effortlessly.

Effortlessly does not mean without work or action. It means you stop forcing yourself to be something you are not.

Perception overload

hexagon

Wikipedia describes perception as the process of acquiring, interpreting, selecting, and organizing sensory information. Organizing is important, especially considering the overload of messages coming to us through advertising and these hyper-communication networks (e-mail, IM, SMSes, blogs, myspace, and now twitter). We have built up a culture of distractions – but what does it achieve?

Anxiety.

An interesting article from 1999, discussing the negative effects of Change and Information Overload concluded:

It seems that the biggest problem facing present-day society is not that there is too little progress, but rather too much of it. Our mind, physiology nor social structures seem fit to cope with such a rate of change and such an amount of new information. Unfortunately, change, complexity and information overload are abstract phenomena, which are difficult to grasp. Therefore, few people have as yet understood that they contribute to the anxiety they feel. When trying to explain their vague feelings of dissatisfaction, they will rather look for more easily recognizable causes, such as unemployment, pollution, crime, corruption or immigration. These phenomena, which have become much more visible because of the attention they get from the media, play the role of scapegoats: they are blamed for the lack of quality of life which people experience, while being only tangentially related to it. This reinforces an atmosphere of gloom and doom.

Changing change

man on car

I went to university in Baltimore, Maryland, and used to speak with the local homeless. I remember once, I was riding home on the bus, and got into a conversation with a beggar. He had an interesting request… he wasn’t asking for money, but for an exchange. He wanted to change his quarters for dollar bills.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because, once I get back to the shelter, and the others hear the change jiggling around in my pocket, I will have to share it with them. I am saving up to buy a new pair of boots to help me make it through the winter, and if I can hide away the dollar bills.”

This man had no job to worry about, no demands from society… other than the expectation to share his earnings from the street. All he wanted was that pair of boots, something I could have easily gone out and purchased for myself without thinking. But that didn’t seem to bother him. In fact, he seemed quite at peace with the world. He was working towards a goal, and seemed quite content to work for it one step at a time.

It’s amazing how many big issues I have in my life – problems which seem insurmountable, that keep me stuck and trapped in my day to day life. How many of these problems are necessary? Compared to this man, are they really that threatening?

Urban legend of the Eskimos

snowflake

There is an old urban legend that Eskimos have an extrordinarily large vocabulary for types of snow. Apparently the myth is usually blown out of proportion, but in its essence there is some truth: The more important a particular subject is to us, the richer our vocabulary will become to describe it.

For example, my flatmate, Viktor Bijelovic is a classical pianist. With my delicate ears, I can distinguish “soft” and “loud”, and can describe music as “yup, sounds good” and “uhhhh…”. (Okay, so I am exaggerating.) Viktor, on the other is able to critique the music he plays and listens to on a much finer level.

It is not just that he has a richer vocabulary, but he has significantly more experience observing music and paying attention to it. From his experiences he has learned to notice differences that I simply have not yet learned exist. By paying more attention to what we are experiencing in the present moment, we open ourselves up to understanding our reality at a deeper level.

Illusionary world

Did you know that your eye is constantly processing what you see? What you think you see has already changed from what light has actually reached your eye. Here is an image I was sent in an e-mail a long time ago that demonstrates this:

  • If your eyes follow the movement of the rotating pink dot, you will only see one color, pink.
  • If you stare at the black + in the center, the moving dot turns to green.
  • Now, concentrate on the black + in the center of the picture. After a short period of time, all the pink dots will slowly disappear, and you will only see a green dot rotating.

pink dot

It’s amazing how our brain works. There really is no green dot, and the pink ones really don’t disappear. This should be proof enough that we don’t always see what we think we see.

Learning to see

contour

Much of learning to draw is about learning to see. One of the first things I learned when I started to draw with pencil were contour drawings. In a contour drawing, you take a large pad of paper, put your pencil down on the paper, and trace a complex object without looking at the paper. You trace the object with your eyes, and refrain from looking at your drawing until you are done. The purpose is not to create good art, but to train yourself to look at the fine details of what you are drawing, instead of the drawing itself.

It is important to remember that what we think we see is colored by our beliefs about how the world is. More often than not we are seeing from our memories of how we have experienced the world, not how the world is right now.