The Mind is a superpower, just look at Professor X from Marvel’s the X-Men comic series. His body is broken but his mind is intact. He overcomes his catastrophic injury and is benevolent in his use of his superpower for the good of men and mutants alike. His counterpart Magneto however, scarred from his past trauma and seeing the world from a lens of fear strikes out in aggression and his behavior is destructive, ultimately being his undoing. Both characters have personal histories of past trauma, catastrophes, and tragedies but their hero journey is divergent. One acts out of love for all beings, and one acts out of fear. One seeks unity, the other division. Both have brilliant minds. The mind is a superpower, and you can develop it in real life as you will see below.
Mindfulness can help. Mindfulness means paying attention in the present moment, on purpose, and without judgment. Bringing awareness to your life and becoming awake. If you are willing this requires serious self-observation to everything in you and everything and everyone around you with a detached and keen observation, as if it was happening to someone else. One metaphor I often use to imagine observing your life sitting in a movie theater while observing your life play out on the screen. You need to divorce your ego from the observation so you can see with clarity. This takes mental effort and concentration. It needs to be perfectly impersonal. What you judge you cannot understand. Being mindful means being nonjudgmental. How do you do this you may ask?
The mind has up to 70,000 thoughts per day. Yes, you read that correctly. Thoughts are energy. Emotions are energy. Everything is energy. The quality of your thoughts impacts not only your mental health but your physical health as well. The mind wanders about half of the time and when it does so the thoughts tend to skew negative, i.e. worry, anxiety, depressive thinking, catastrophic thinking, waiting for the other shoe to drop, etc. Mindfulness and self-observation can help you start to pay attention to what is happening in your mind. This is called metacognition. Many people think they are self-aware but they are not. I once had a client meditate for the first time and I had him attempt to count his thoughts. After a few minutes he said he had zero thoughts, no thinking happened. I laughed surprised, this was a great discovery. When I explained the voice in our heads that is constantly chattering he said he didn’t realize that was thinking, but it is. What is that voice saying in your head? Add to the fact that we are slammed with information, notifications, and social media around the clock and the mind is quite busy, too busy.
Our minds our saturated with distractions of all kinds daily and we let it happen by having our personal smart phones on our possession wherever we go. Be mindful of your social media habits, news, and media intake, these are not designed to make you feel warm and fuzzy, but rather stressed and anxious and can easily put you in a stress reactivity cycle and fight or flight. Children are anxious and depressed at sky high levels with the advent of smart phones and social media. I had one client who said he couldn’t get any work done because he would get sucked into watching YouTube videos that play one after the other and hours would go by. These applications are designed by very intelligent neuroscientists to capture your attention. This topic was well covered in a documentary on Netflix in 2020 called The Social Dilemma, that featured Googles former design ethicist, Tristan Harris. I am not denouncing these technologies but want people to be aware of their habits that are in support of a healthy lifestyle, or not, and how they may change them.
People nowadays have access to meditation apps and of course the internet is ubiquitous, but meditation can be helpful. We use the Mountain or Lake Meditation to bring awareness to the mind to help find clarity in our Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Course (an online version is on my website). However, silence is the greatest teacher. Words pollute the silence. Your wisdom and insight are found in silence. When you have detached yourself from outside stimuli and are looking inward in silence you will make great discoveries. Over the years teaching stress classes many people fear silence. the unexamined life is not worth living according to Socrates, and I agree. It is okay if you don’t, not everyone is ready for the challenge. It takes courage and warrior spirit to examine your mind, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and beliefs and judgments about yourself and others and challenge them. Yes, you must challenge these things if you wish to grow.
Experiment: Create an intention to sit in meditation in silence. Sit in a straight and relaxed posture. Light a candle in a darkened room a foot or so away from you and peer into the flame. After a few minutes close your eyes to where you see the flame inside your head. You are now observing inside yourself and utilizing your third eye. Sit in silence, free from distractions, away from a clock, or mobile device and practice self-observation. Allow the silence to inform you of the thought process of your mind. Do this for twenty to thirty minutes. Then hand write what you observed on paper or in your journal. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to meditate and there is no goal, not predetermined outcome or insight. What you observe is unique to you. Your insights and your wisdom are for you.
When I first went to a ten-day Vipassana retreat the first two days were miserable. I was in pain from sitting in meditation for two hours at a time starting at 4:30 AM. I was used to pain or so I thought but after seeing a few other men leave I thought (in my mind) that this was too much. I had bitten off more that I could chew. What was I thinking? I had left my ex-wife at home with two young children while I went on a journey to find truth, and it was hard and painful. I wanted to quit. I made an appointment to talk with the teacher and he listened compassionately. He had wisdom. I was in distress, he could tell. I said I was in pain, this was too hard, and I needed to leave. Excuses are lies by the way.
The teacher asked me… “Why did you come here?”
Me: “I wanted to find something new to ease my suffering and find answers, …peace, and truth.”
Teacher: “I understand…, you may leave anytime, no one is keeping you here, but you know what is out there, why not find out what you have yet to discover here?”
If you recall the movie The Matrix and can picture Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne) holding out the two pills to Neo (played by Keanu Reeves) this is what happened to me. When I asked myself the question the answer was: I wanted to find truth, and maybe even enlightenment if I was being honest. My pain was partly physical in my surgically repaired knee and bad back but most of it was psychological as my mind unraveled from all the delusions, judgments, beliefs I had about myself and how I was wronged by others, been disadvantaged in some way, been a victim, been mistreated, and was helpless in changing the direction of my life, all these thoughts floating in my head. That is hard to write.
This purification process of the mind was painful, the teacher knew what I was going through and he knew if I could break through that mental wall then I would be fine. As I reflect on that moment, I wanted to quit so bad, and if I had my life would look very different than it does now.
I share that story because it was in the silence of meditation, when I really started to bring awareness and observe my mind that I was faced with all my bullshit that I had been attached to and selling myself. There was wisdom in that silence. I realized that my anger, that I had been carrying for years (and still some to this day) was from my self-defeating core beliefs that I was not worthy of love, not worthy in general, not capable of being successful in life, and was doomed to a life of suffering.
My insight was that this was coming from me, my own inner critic (the voice in your head that puts you down), who was weighing me down with negativity. It was not conscious. The self- observation must be profound, much deeper than surface level. Most of you reading this will not be willing to do this, but if you do, you will be rewarded. If your intention is to seek truth in finding alignment with your mind it can be achieved. No one is harder on yourself than you, but you can develop an inner compassionate coach to change the way you talk to yourself. I had to learn to meet my anger and frustration with love.
There was a moment in day three of the retreat when my pain, which was intense, simply vanished. It was there one moment and gone the next. I found peace. My psychological pain, the pain in my head that I was sure I was feeling disappeared. That was quite a Jedi Mind trick. We all can heal ourselves from our pain. My pain was caused by myself, by my own mind. I was angry I was not in a better place, but I was the only one getting in my way. Once I brought awareness to that I could begin to work on it.
I needed to start to take care of myself, understand my mind, shift my beliefs, and be more compassionate to myself and the challenges in my life. The process continues to this day but foundation was beginning to take shape. Optimism, love, and kindness started to fill the void of anger that had been uprooted. Self-care is ongoing, it is a constant process.
Exercise: What challenges are facing you in your life, and in your mind? Write them down. When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change. When you start to identify thinking that is destructive or not healthy re-write the thought in a constructive manner. For example from my retreat. One thought I had is this:
“I should be further along in life, making more money, maybe I am not good enough.”
I could reframe that several ways:
“Even though I am not where I want to be I can use my anger (which is energy) to make the change I want to see. I can learn new skills to find a better job. I am good enough, and I have been through tougher challenges in my life, so why limit myself.”
There are several attitudes from the MBSR program that I believe are fundamental to creating a healthy mindset. One is having an open mind, or beginner’s mind, being patient, trusting yourself- and your gut brain, acceptance, letting go, non-striving, non-judgment, and then being generous and having gratitude- that is being thankful for being alive and counting your blessings.
When you begin to bring a mindful awareness to your mind you can begin to set things in alignment with your truth. Truth is love. Love is the greatest energy. Being kind to yourself and your mind you will begin to bring compassion to your mind, its capability, and superpower, and you will feel that emotion. When you feel that emotion like a weight being lifted off of you or a feeling of lightness you will know that you accomplished something amazing. We all have this potential.