Training your wandering mind can change your life

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Learning to observe our thoughts rather than being dictated by them is the key to a more productive and happier lifestyle, writes mindfulness consultant And Hix.

Before I started meditating, I thought who I was was comprised of my thoughts. I didn’t realise it at the time, because I was too identified with them to know that.

Through meditation I have understood and experienced that we all have a faculty that is greater than our thoughts, and that is our awareness of them. Shut your eyes for a moment and try not to think of anything.

What you’ll experience is that thoughts arise of their own accord and that you have the capacity to be aware of them – to watch them. I had a thought about needing to buy a phone charger, noticed I was thinking about that and then returned my attention to my column. I didn’t choose to have that thought, it just popped into my mind.

These two faculties are sometimes called ‘the observer consciousness’ and ‘the activity mind’. The observer consciousness can be compared to a torch. You can use it to shine a light inwardly on your thoughts and feelings, as they happen.

Much of the time, however, we are not in control of where the spotlight of our attention is pulled. It might be drawn by an itch, an ache, a beautiful woman, an uncomfortable thought or a beeping phone.

Your activity mind is much like an untrained puppy. It gets interested in something for a few moments and then scurries off to find something else. Your puppy makes it hard to be productive because it leads you to keep shifting task rather than complete each one before moving on.

Following the puppy around the whole time is also tiring. And if you leave your mind untrained it will make a much bigger mess than a puppy. So it can be wonderfully liberating to realise that you are not the activity mind.

Imagine the owner is your observer consciousness, trying to find their dog in their dark. Using the torch, it is possible for you to learn to see that the puppy has run off into the future or the past, and consciously decide to bring it back into the present.

If you don’t realise that you are not the same as your activity mind, and you get caught up in thought of inadequacy, anxiety or ill will you may not be able to stop those thoughts from becoming destructive.

By observing the thoughts you’re able to train them to behave in way that’s more conducive to your own happiness and that of others.

The hardest aspect for most people, is not being self-critical when they notice their mind wandering off while they’re meditating. They think they should be able to direct the puppy before it’s been trained.

Just as with a puppy, it works a lot better to be kind and patient, than get frustrated. And the more times you patiently bring the mind back, the better trained it will be.

The big question is, though, if you are not your thoughts, who or what are you?

Andy Hix is director of zen at work, a London-based mindfulness consultancy. Get in touch with Andy for a free taster session at www.zenatwork.co.uk.

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