The Mind – Self-Entertainment

We know other people are a constant source of entertainment, from the things they do (cut in line) or say (stupid stuff), or wear (butt-cheeks below those shorty-shorts), and how they stroll and be-bop to their tunes. A seat at a coffee shop, alone, is the quickest way to observe your fellow human being.  Add to that a park bench or music venue or airport waiting lounge and you’re good for hours.
If you really want to be entertained, study yourself. Just like the omnipresent cat videos, your mind is always available.  However, don’t expect all of the joy you get from watching those cute, claw monsters terrorize dogs, shred toilet paper rolls or poop in toilets. Watching yourself doesn’t always feel so good. It can be challenging to be introspective, but if you have the right attitude, it can be pretty darn fun.
What’s it mean to “watch yourself”?  Of course, you watch yourself, you are yourself. But, really, most of our mental process is spent doing one of three things:  ruminating in the past, judging in the present or planning (i.e., worrying) about the future. This is common, normal and just what the mind does. Don’t worry, it’s not a bad thing. You’re human. What I’m suggesting is that you become a bit more curious.  Think of it as meddling in your own mind. Here are a few things to watch for:
The Past – Ruminating, we do it all of the time. We pick some injustice or difficulty (not always, but often) to replay over-and-over. (Note to self:  The way you remember past events is not very accurate.)  We also tend to avoid and push away uncomfortable thoughts. The past is over and excessive rumination is just crazy-making.  Practice: Notice when and possibly why you spend too much time in the past. Are they happy memories?  Are the thoughts beneficial to you right now?
The Present – Watch how much judgment comes up about yourself and others. We either like or dislike (love or hate) everything. There seems to be a need to have an opinion about the most insignificant to the grandiose. At the grocery checkout do you look at your neighbor’s basket with the 2 6-packs of Bud, jumbo Coke, frozen pizza and Dorito Nacho Cheese chips and judge? I do. Do you also mentally comment on the speed of the checker or their age or how long they’ve had the job?  You might. Practice:  See things and events just be the way they are without the mental gyrations of labeling. Is it possible?
The Future –  Get a load of how many stories you tell yourself about the future. Problem is that much of our future planning is fear-based.  Will I screw up? Will people like me?  What if it rains?  Notice.  What is the nature of your future-seeking thoughts?  Practice: Paying attention gives you a chance shift or, the word of the day, “pivot” your outlook. Begin to see the future in a more positive light.
Can you tell how you divide your mental time between the past, present, and future?  Does one dominate?  These questions are not to be solved; they are to be observed without judgment. It’s the noticing and awareness that the key.  It’ll take some practice as the mind doesn’t so much care for being scrutinized. It likes doing what it wants.
There’s one more thing. Observe your body. When you find your mind has wandered into no-man’s land, check in with your body.  Most times the body is physically reacting to the emotions the mind is creating. If you’re thinking about an event that was fearful, your body will begin to act as if it was “real” and happening in real time. Your body will begin to show signs of stress just from your thoughts.  Again, be inquisitive and see if you can find the corresponding change in your body with the varying thoughts in your mind.  They’re there if you look hard.
I hope you enjoy spending some time with your mind. Instead of looking at it as a chore, think of it as a source of entertainment. “Wow, look what my mind just did!!  Hah!! There it goes again!”.

What a Week, Eh!

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What a week, eh! (if you’re in Canada already) or What a week, matey! (that’d be Australia) or What a week,  ¡No manches! (if you’re already south of the border). To many of us it was a week of disbelief and creeping anxiety over not only our own safety, but the safety of our families, communities, country and the world.
Many, many friends and journalists have deconstructed the results of the election in smart and thoughtful ways, offering encouragement, hope and calling for action.  I won’t attempt to match their good work, but I do have a few things to offer.
Freaking out is in our nature. It’s a normal, natural human response to change. And, if there’s one thing that is a constant, it’s change. It’s the adaptation to change that is the bugger. We like things to stay just like they are. [For some (men), this was a job, a woman in the kitchen and no damn foreigners sucking the country dry.]   We experience small changes daily, even if it’s a new smile line where there wasn’t one yesterday.  Or, on some days, like this week, the changes are huge, shocking, and disturbing. Change happens, it’s inevitable.
Being present and mindful helps us deal with these constant changes and how they affect us, either in a good way or not.  Many of us have some sort of contemplation “practice”, whether it be a mindfulness-based stress reduction program, meditation, prayer, or just sitting still with a cat on our lap.  This practice can be tied to movement, like yoga or tai chi.  We are always “practicing” because it takes vigilance and effort to keep our mind steady and on the look out for the “freak-out” tendency.
I know.  Meditation and prayer can be frustrating and boring.  Thoughts can bubble up that seem better left pushed down.  It’s easy to think, “why am I doing this”, nothing’s happening”, “this is stupid” and “I’d rather be watching ice cream or playing solitaire”.  Understood.  But know that history has shown and science has proved that over time, meditation literally rebuilds the brain’s gray matter.  he grey matter area, in the hippocampus, is important for learning and memory and is associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.  When many people start practicing meditation they find their brains have been literally rewired for happiness, peace and success.
Our practice pays off.  Everyday, we are challenged with situations that require us to offer compassion to ourselves and others.  But it was this week, especially, that was the test. Can I avoid the “freak out”?  Can I contribute a measured, caring and skillful response to the post-election conversation?  This is not easy, for sure.  If you have a meditation or contemplation practice, keep it up.  If not, it’s a good time to start, don’t you think?
One more thing.  To keep the outcome of the election in perspective, “Trump still got every last person that would vote for him to the polls and he still lost the popular vote”(1)  Fewer than 60 million American voted for Trump; 260 million did not vote for him. This comforts me, a bit.

1.  Ethan Nichtern tweet. @ethannichtern