Mind-chatter exercise

powercord

Creativity & Personal Mastery has started again. This week’s exercise is to record our mind-chatter throughout the day. It is a very powerful reminder of how unproductive our thoughts can be. The objective is not to get rid of the mind-chatter, just to observe it.

A brilliant example of how useless mind-chatter can be:

I purchased a power-cord for my computer, paid in cash, didn’t ask for a receipt, and when I returned home and plugged it in, I discovered it was a dud.

My mind chatter began exploring the scenario of returning the item, and soon it was worrying about potential problems from not having a receipt. I actually started to feel angry at these mythical future attendants for refusing my request without a receipt – and worse, kept repeating the story in my head.

And continued repeating it for about 2-3 days… until I had a chance to return to the store. Of course, they exchanged it without any questions, leaving me to question why I had created all this completely useless mind-chatter to begin with.

Learnings:

  • Follow-up idea #3: Use the mind-chatter exercise to notice when you are repeatedly worrying about stupid things. Especially things that aren’t likely to happen in the future that won’t impact your life if they did.
  • Reminder #1: If you won’t remember it in a year, it is not that important.
  • Usability tip #6: Observing is just that – watching the thought, noticing the sensations, and accepting what is there without trying to change it. I find this difficult, as if I have a built in habit to try and fix what I don’t like. Unfortunately this just creates tension rather then to dissolve the undesirable state.

Creativity and meditation

meditating

Wikipedia’s defines creativity as a mental process involving the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations between existing ideas or concepts. (Which, by the way, is much better than Merriam-Webster’s attempt, defining creativity as “the quality of being creative”. In Britain that is called sarcasm.)

But where does creativity come from? I am most creative when my mind is calm and not overwhelmed with thoughts, anxiety or other excessive mind-chatter… usually when I am meditating or engaged in another mindful activity, such as jogging or taking a shower. The creative inspiration appears to flow out of this stillness.

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.

Joy of being

sun

The joy of being arises in this present moment when you realize that everything you are experiencing is perfect. Nothing needs to change – the joy is in appreciation of what is. It doesn’t mean you don’t act, rather when you do act it is more of a dance with what is, rather than craving to get somewhere or something new. This dance is your true self. How do you know if you are acting from your true self? Eckhart Tolle explains:

The main trap to avoid is to confuse content and essence. The ancient dictum “know thyself” points towards essence, your true identity. Your name, nationality, religion, your opinions, political views, material possessions, likes and dislikes, desires, fears, ambitions, as well as your view of yourself as a success or failure, good or bad – in fact your entire personal history and your thought processes… all that is content. All content is subject to the law of impermanence (as the Buddha already discovered 2600 years ago), and if you try to discover who you are within the dimension of content, you will encounter frustration again and again. Or, as the Buddha put it, you will suffer. You suffer because you derive your sense of identity exclusively from the content of your life. Another word for content is form. That is what the ego is: identification with form. When you stop identifying with form, the ego is no longer in control. So, first realize who you are not (form) and what’s left is who you are. But then there is nothing left, you might say, but this is not so. What’s left is not form, but essence, which we could also call inner space. The space out of which all forms come and into which they disappear. The ancient Chinese philosophers called it the Tao. It is beyond time. It is the eternal, the primordial I am.

Joy of growing

books

The joy of growing comes out of the thrill and satisfaction of evolving into something greater. If this is a natural joy, then why do we resist change?

Living within our comfort zone is easy. The world around us stays congruent with our beliefs, and we know how to act throughout the day. The only problem is that we are constantly changing. Somewhere I read that every seven years all the cells in our body are different. My body is completely different from the one I had 7 years ago… imagine that! Constant change opens the possibility to grow in new directions.

Joy of creating

art brush

You are a creature that likes to create. One trip to the mall, and the obsession in our society is crystal clear.

But you create much more than just objects. You create your belief systems and how you think of the world around you. Together with your neighbors, you create cultures and communities, which leads into creating concepts like governments, money, and other really abstract ideas. Then someone builds a university to hand down these abstract ideas and ways of thinking. You can even create a life lie.

So doesn’t all this creating make us more miserable? No. I believe that when we are creative, we are open to the possibilities of the universe, thus letting go of worries and attempts to protect ourselves. The worrying sets in once we have stopped creating… out of fear of what we will lose. You can’t lose anything when you’re being creative – that’s the magic of it. As Ben Zander states in his book, The Art of Possibility:

A universe of possibility creates a generative and giving state that produces new life, creates new ideas and contributions where the emotions of joy, grace, awe, wholeness, passion and compassion are abundant. We can use language to create categories of meaning that open up new worlds to explore.

Joy of giving

gift

Everything we do is ultimately selfish – we always act in our own best perceived interest. This sounds bad, but hey, it’s true, isn’t it? And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Eckhart Tolle refers to assisting others as “enlightened selfishness” – when we help others in return for the good feelings that arise.

There is a certain power behind giving, volunteering, helping and mentoring. In the world we live in, we are surrounded by messages that we need to consume to be happy. We are constantly living in lack, trying to get the next best thing. When we give, we are turn this around – to have something to give implies abundance and completeness. It breaks the silly consumer-craving cycle the advertising world perpetuates around us.

I used to volunteer profusely in college – in addition to making me feel good and stroking my ego, it also put things in perspective. It made my problems seem insignificant, and it helped me to let go of a lot of the problems I was holding on to.

Pillars of joy

joy

Prof. Srikumar Rao describes happiness as the joy you feel when you’re watching a sunset. He says, there is nothing you need to change with sunset, and nothing you need to do to obtain the happiness from it. The happiness arises within you in admiration of the moment. This is the joy of being.

Recently, I was journaling and it occurred to me that there are three other pillars where joy naturally arises:

  • the joy of giving
  • the joy of creating
  • the joy of growing

I think these sources of joy are what lead to happy and meaningful lives.

Simplicity

Simplicity Blossoms When Coercion Dies

Govern a state with predictable actions.
Fight a war with surprise attacks.
But the universe becomes ours
only by eliminating coercive acts.
By not doing, nothing lacks.

How do we know these lessons?
By tuning into our Essence.

The more taboos and prohibitions there are,
the poorer the people become.
The more deadly weapons there are,
the more our fears turn us numb.

When craftiness spreads far,
the more bizarre what is done,
The stricter the laws there are,
the less the robbers run.

Therefore, the wise know
to make no one a foe.
The less coercing we do,
The more tranquilities grow.

When harmony reigns,
and we rule ourselves with felicity,
everyone gains,
and we’ll all live in simplicity.

Tao Te Ching
Lao-tzu (abt.551-479 BCE)

 

verse 57 as translated by Ralph Alan Dale 2002 ISBN 0-7607-4998-1

via mindfully.org.