What is the first thing we think about when we wake up? Is it our work? The deals that need to be done, the meetings that must be had, the zooms which require our attendance. Is it the food shop? The kids schooling, the breakfast that needs making, and the pile of laundry? Or do you take a moment? I chant ‘Aum Namah Bhagavate Vasudevaya’ once and then google BBC news. Sometimes I chant so quickly I may as well have not bothered.
According to a website called Sleep Advisor, more than half of Americans start their day by checking their phone. A survey conducted by Deloitte in 2016 revealed 61% of respondents look at their phone within the first 5 minutes of waking up. We are clogging up our minds before even warming them up. We are racing into a day before welcoming it.
To avoid injury during a work-out, you spend a couple of minutes stretching, why are we not stretching and warming up our minds? If you were to continue working out without ever warming up or cooling down you’d eventually find that your muscles seize and tense up. The mind is exactly the same, if we cannot learn to warm it up and cool it down, our mind becomes stressed, pressured and overwhelmed.
The mind being the most powerful machine ever to come into creation can cope; but how many marriages, relationships, and careers unravel as a consequence. We think it’s because life happened to us, and in some ways, life does unfold in surprising and unexpected ways. However, we have been gifted with a mind and looking after it is our responsibility. When we don’t, we wreak havoc and we realise we’ve lost control. But what have we lost control of? It is our mind.
Another way to look at this is through the lens of a relationship. What is your relationship like with your mind? Can you switch it off at will? Can you eradicate nonsensical or negative thoughts? Can you objectively observe your mind and its behaviour? If your mind was a child, with two parents, the intellect and the ego, which parent is feeding this child? Does the intellect hold the power or does the ego? Introspection allows you to experience the truthful state of your being. By asking yourself these questions you can begin to define this relationship, and once it is defined, you can then decide whether it needs to change. This is the first step.
There are three key elements required for a shift to occur. The first is observation and analysis, which we have addressed. The second step is a clear commitment to change. You might say to yourself, ‘well if I am willing to observe myself, I am clearly willing to change any negative power patterns at play.’ That isn’t the case. Often we know something is unhealthy for us, or unsuitable, but we continue to play into it despite observation. We do this because the vasana’s (impressions) that form those behavioural patterns are extremely dominant within us, and a change requires hard work, which the mind is not accustomed to.
You might then say ‘well my mind works very hard, I am at the top of my field and I am successful’. Your mind no longer finds work or that kind of stimulation a challenge, in fact, it has become second nature and therefore is a willing distraction from what actually may require your attention. Have you ever heard someone say ‘well he just buried himself in work.’? That is what we do to stop ourselves from having to face real change, we occupy the mind to a point where it is exhausted and simply does not have time to contemplate a different direction. Therefore to truly stop the noise, you have to be willing to turn off the music, not replace the noise with another song.
Discipline is the key to commitment. If you can make a commitment to yourself and be disciplined, that will automatically refine your mind. And, discipline should not come from a place of punishing or harshness, it should come from a place of love. If your mind was your child, you would nurture it, train it, and teach it with love and discipline. We often muddle the mind with ‘I’ and merge the two. In fact, both are very distinct, and upon recognizing that distinction we allow for a shift in power.
Once a commitment is made you are at the final step, which is action. Decluttering a mind is like re-designing a home. You have to first remove everything and then discard what is wasteful. Then from a clean slate, you can redesign your space. A few simple steps which can be immediately actionable for us is to first change our language. Instead of using negative words, use positive words, because positive words automatically correlate with happiness which will uplift us.
In the morning, before you jump out of bed, commit to just ten deep inhalations. This will be your stretching and with each inhalation, you will breathe in the new and breathe out the past. Slowly you will be able to work towards a meditation sequence, but it is important to start with achievable baby steps so the mind can feel rewarded. Finally, when you close for the day, instead of over stimulating your mind with more news and social media, write seven things you are grateful for. Being grateful before you sleep is a powerful technique to force your mind to think positively and reduce feelings of anxiety and melancholy.
Lord Krishna says, “He who has controlled his self (mind), certainly self is his best relation, but for him the self is his enemy who has not controlled his self.” Chapter 5, Bhagavad Gita. Good luck friends, we are in this together.
Shivali has released two albums, The Bhajan Project by Sony Music and Urban Temple with Eros Now. She is a writer and public speaker on Hindu Philosophy & Spirituality. She trained in Kathak, Ballet and Latin. She holds a Kathak Diploma from the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, London.
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