The Mind

“Mind is everything. What we think we become.” – The Buddha

“What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?” – James 4:1, The Bible

As someone thinks within himself, so he is.” – Proverbs 23:7

The mind acts like an enemy for those who do not control it. -The Bhagavad Gita

“Words are under your control until you speak them. But you come under their control once you have spoken them.” – Ali Ibn Abi Thalib radi Allaahu ‘anhu

The mind is a huge part of our human experience. It is a meaning-making machine. It is constantly at work to figure things out, keep us safe, keep us in line, categorize, label, store, recall, sort, prepare, process….

With the intent to create a loving environment within the mind, you are invited to view this page as an experiment in getting to know the nature of your mind. Check out what thoughts it likes to think the most. How does it communicate with you?

Kamal Ravikant, a best-selling author of his self-published book, “Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It”,  described that a side effect of being fiercely dedicated to loving himself was that he started to dislodge old patterns, thoughts, and beliefs that he did not know existed in his mind. Hopefully, this section will give you a chance to explore the contents of your mind and how it impacts your everyday life.

then i went for my thoughts
invisible and everywhere
there was no time to gather them one by one
i had to wash them out
i wove a linen cloth out of my hair
soaked it in a bowl of mint and lemon water
carried it in my mouth as i climbed
up the braid to the back of my head
down on my knees i began to wipe my mind clean
it took twenty one days
my knees bruised but
i did not care
i was not given the breath
in my lungs to choke it out
i would scrub the self-hate off the bone
till it exposed love

-self love
Rupi Kaur

Exercise: Self-Reflection

Take a moment to ask yourself the following questions presented by Tara Brach, PhD, in her book Radical Acceptance. Write down your answers, and hold on to them. You may want to revisit these questions after reading through the whole Self-Love section.

How do I view the state of my mind?

  • Do I judge myself for not being intelligent enough? Humorous? Interesting?
  • Am I critical of myself for having obsessive thoughts? For having a repetitive, boring, mind?
  • Am I ashamed of myself for having bad thoughts- mean, judgmental, or lusty thoughts?
  • Do I consider myself a bad meditater because my mind is so busy?

What do I think about my emotions?

  • Do I accept my emotions and moods as they are?
  • Is it okay for me to cry? To feel insecure and vulnerable?
  • Do I condemn myself for getting depressed?
  • Am I ashamed of feeling jealous?
  • Am I critical of myself for being impatient? Irritable? Intolerant?

What are my opinions of my behaviors?

  • Do I hate myself when I act in a self-centered or hurtful way?
  • Do I feel disgusted with myself when I eat compulsively?
  • Do I punish myself internally when I smoke cigarettes or drink too much alcohol?
  • Do I feel that I am always falling short in how I relate to my family and friends?
  • Do I feel something is wrong with me because I am not capable of intimacy?
  • Am I down on myself for not accomplishing enough- for not standing out or being special in my work?”
  • Am I ashamed of my outbursts of anger?

As you can see, there are a lot of nuances to what you literally “think” about yourself, within the framework of the ‘self’ being broken down as your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Practice: Accept in the Moment

As you find yourself moving through your day, take a moment to pause every once in a while and ask yourself “in this moment, do I accept myself just as I am?”  Without adding a qualifying judgment onto the process of questioning, simply become aware of how you are relating to your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Get honest about what stories, what categories, and what judgments you are holding in your mind about what you are experiencing. From here, you have a choice to soften, bring in loving kindness, and compassion for yourself. You may also benefit from employing the practice of mindfulness.

While loving yourself in moments of self-judgment may feel foreign, start by simply noticing what the thoughts you are having about yourself/your present moment experience are.

“Like waking up from a bad dream, when we can see our own prison, we also see our potential” –Tara Brach, Phd.

In this quick video, How to Be a Friend to Yourself,  created by School of Life,  the narrator demonstrates how we can use respectful friendships with others as a blueprint of  how to begin to befriend ourselves. We all came out of our childhoods with strategies to help us cope with our imperfect parents. We didn’t have better options when we were children, and these habits will let us down in adult life. Everyone fails. We generously offer understanding of the human condition outwardly to our friends.  However, it is much less common to offer this kind of compassion to ourselves.

If you’re interested in more self-assessment, we’d also recommend to check out Scott Barry Kaufman’s Self-Actualization tests and Healthy Selfishness Scale.

Perfectionism

Let’s peel back another layer.
Many of us have the core belief that “In order to be loveable, I have to be perfect.”

Here’s the definition of perfectionism by Merriam Webster:

1a: the doctrine that the perfection of moral character constitutes a person’s highest good
b: the theological doctrine that a state of freedom from sin is attainable on earth

2: a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable

Many of us spend time stuck in the belief that being perfect is not only possible, but the only way to feel worthy. As Gay Hendricks would say, it’s a good place to start by taking a breath and loving your desire to be perfect.

This striving to be perfect leaves us feeling exhausted, unfulfilled, and in a perpetual state of feeling unseen by the world. It is often accompanied by self-sabotage and a life led by our inner-critic. A major step in loving ourselves is to realize we are not perfect and that there is no such thing as a perfect person.

You may be thinking that is old news, but many of us have to carefully unlearn the beliefs that have led to a life of  striving for perfectionism.  Being imperfect is not something personal we need to improve in ourselves; it is a natural part of being a human. Seventh-century Zen Master Seng-Tsan taught that true freedom was to know a life without anxiety about imperfection. Tara Brach, shares, “When we relax about imperfection, we no longer lose our life moments in the pursuit of being different in the fear of what is wrong.” She inspires us to shift our focus from striving for perfection toward “loving ourselves into wholeness.”

“In contrast to the orthodox notions of climbing up a ladder seeking perfection, psychologist Carl Jung describes the spiritual path as an unfolding into wholeness. Rather than trying to vanquish waves of emotion and rid ourselves of an inherently impure self, we turn around and embrace this life in all its realness- broken, messy, mysterious and vibrantly alive. By cultivating an unconditional and accepting presence, we are no longer battling against ourselves, keeping our wild and imperfect self in a cage of judgment and mistrust. Instead, we are discovering the freedom of becoming authentic and fully alive”- Tara Brach

More on Jung found on the Spirit page.

Affirmations

“There’s an old voice in my head
That’s holding me back
Well tell her that I miss our little talks
Soon it will all be over, and buried with our past
We used to play outside when we were young
And full of life and full of love
Some days I don’t know if I am wrong or right.
Your mind is playing tricks on you my dear”
– From the song Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men

As we all know, the mind is an extremely powerful part of our human design, which Gay Hendricks says,  thinks upward of fifty thousand thoughts a day. When left to its own devices, it can replay the same thoughts. As one thinks the same things over and over it creates a pathway, similar to one found in the woods. The more one’s mind carves certain paths (with repetitive thought patterns), the more likely they are to go down them. One can go unconscious, the mind taking them down the same route over and over.  This path can be filled with wildflowers and pristine streams, or it can be filled with painful briars and poison ivy.  To remedy the pattern of going unconscious mentally, the individual can develop what is known as Witness Consciousness.

Witness Consciousness is essentially ‘Presence,’ for which we have an entire section.

“The witness is actually another level of consciousness. The witness coexists alongside your normal consciousness as another layer of awareness, as the part of you that is awakening. Humans have this unique ability to be in two states of consciousness at once. Witnessing yourself is like directing the beam of a flashlight back at itself. In any experience — sensory, emotional, or conceptual — there’s the experience, the sensory or emotional or thought data, and there’s your awareness of it. That’s the witness, the awareness, and you can cultivate that awareness in the garden of your being.” –  Polishing the Mirror by Ram Dass

By cultivating the capacity to witness one’s mental landscape, one can shift from being a victim in relationship to the mind into claiming a sense of sovereignty within their own inner kingdom.

Practice: Witness Consciousness

Sit in a comfortable position.
Start to notice yourself simply sitting and being breathed.
Employ your imagination and visualize an owl sitting in a tall tree above you.
This bird can see you, and there is a lot of physical space between the bird and yourself.
Now imagine that Owl as your Witness Consciousness.
It looks out for you, taking note of what you’re thinking and how you’re talking to yourself.
It is neutral and honest.
It sees.
You can begin to nurture your relationship with this part of yourself throughout your day.
You can begin to witness yourself in your thoughts with perspective, opposed to being under and inside of them constantly.

To take the practice a step further, you may find The Work of Byron Katie to be helpful in discerning what thoughts are true, serving, and worth continuing to carve out pathways for.

What if we embraced and even harnessed the power of the mind by using it as a tool instead of being at the whim of a trickster, who repetitively pulls us out of our integrity and true power?  One way to explore this is to consider using affirmations: a consciously crafted and life-serving thought one intentionally practices. 

I am beautiful
I am worthy
I am enough
I am safe

I am abundant
I am intelligent
I am making a difference in the world
I am powerful

I am peaceful
I am strong
I am in service to that which I care about

The roots of what feel like a cliche’ practice to some, are up to 3,000 years old.  Certain paths of Hinduism and Buddhism use mantras (which are similar to our modern day affirmations in essence) to aid in concentration during meditation.

In his self-published book “Love yourself like your life depends on it” Kamal Ravinkant wrote about his practice of saying the phrase “I love myself” over and over all day for several weeks. This declaration and repetitive notion about his love for himself was the catalyst for pulling himself  out of an intense depressive state he had been in for months.  He writes “the mind would wander, of course, head down rat holes, but each time I noticed, I’d return repeating ‘I love myself, I love myself, I love myself…’ and it continued. Another phrase he repeated to himself was “If I loved myself truly and deeply, would I let myself experience this? ”

You may be reading this and thinking, “Well I don’t love myself, and I don’t really like myself so I wouldn’t go around saying that to myself all day long, or checking in to make decisions based on my commitment to loving myself!”

That’s okay.
Begin where you are.

Fake it till you make it’ applies here. The practice works because of the way the mind functions. It will eventually adapt and respond to what it is thinking. For more on this, check out the books As If and Alter Ego.

This Ted Talk called The Power of Mantra given by Bhava Ram tells the story of being close to death and hearing three words from his son that inspired him to take control of his life. He speaks to the power of words and how they can propel healing and growth.

Author Bell Hooks shares that she wrote affirmations relevant to her daily life and began to repeat them in the mornings as a part of her daily meditations.
One of hers is,  “I’m breaking with old patterns and moving forward with my life.” She would repeat it throughout the day to help her navigate the critical voice she often heard inside. She writes “Self acceptance is hard for many of us- there is a voice inside that is constantly judging, first ourselves and then others”… Welcome to the impact of the inner-critic.

Can you imagine what it would be like to have some kind thoughts intertwined with some of the self-deprecating ones?

You may discount the concept of affirmations based on their occurrence in the New Age Movement, and/or find the idea of affirmations or mantras to be a form of cultural appropriation, or view them to be an ungrounded technique to master the beast of the mind. You may prefer the word slogan.

The practice of slogans is used in the worldwide support program, Al-Anon.
Al‑Anon is a mutual support program for people whose lives have been affected by someone else’s drinking. In their own words:

“Unlike some of Al‑Anon’s practices and principles that take a while to learn and apply, the Al‑Anon slogans are easy to learn and remember. You may have heard some of these slogans hundreds of times before without ever taking them seriously or trying to put them to work. After all, they are clichés, and easy to disregard. But it is their very simplicity that makes them so powerful.” Find out more about Al-Anon here 

Helpful Printouts

“The greatest discovery of my generation is that human beings can alter their lives by altering the attitudes of the mind.” – William James 

If you liked this, then we recommend checking out our section on “Your Storied Life,” which takes a deep look at the role of mental constructs in life.

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