3 Steps to Control Your Mind
This quote was the title on a postcard that advertised a local meditation class which immediately captivated me nearly sixteen years ago. It had me instantly thinking in a way I'd never thought before and I was intrigued enough that I wanted to learn more.
My first class, was led by an experienced Buddhist lay practitioner in Ramsbottom, England. She started with a ten minute breathing meditation, followed by a teaching on the mind of patience and concluded with a final meditation to deepen our experience with this new line of thinking. In the past several months leading up to this class, I had been deprived of a lot of sleep (my first son had been born earlier that year) and life had changed with a much greater level of accountability, being the sole bread winner and fiscally responsible for three of us, a new home and related expenses. I was twenty six at the time.
Call it beginner's luck, during the class I had a feeling arise through meditation that I'd never experienced before - inner peace and contentment. I was hooked! Everything I'd been trying up to that point, from exercise and reading personal development books to education and relationships, had only ever offered some temporary satiation of happiness. This felt much deeper and authentic. I had to learn more. Soon after, I attended a Buddhist retreat in rural Lancashire with a Buddhist monk, Gen Samten. His presence was calming and his guided meditations were medicinal. Sign me up.
Have confidence in what I'm about to share as I talk from the trenches in taking on a modern, busy lifestyle. My wife and I have four boys (when our twins arrived in 2008, we had four boys aged 4 and under) who are actively involved in multiple basketball teams, I'm a volunteer coach for some of their teams, I help run a local Academy program, I love to workout, ski and hike and I run my own home based clinic in a small town outside of Calgary. As an entrepreneur there is a tendency for the mind to get wildly out of control with ideas. It's been an art to learn how to channel that, and it is something I'm still working on!
Here are the three steps to control your mind.
Step 1 - Recognize
This is the most important step as without taking this one, the others cannot follow. Of sound body and mind, you can instantly check what your mind is up to. Try it right now. To access your mind you just used your mental attention - a part of your mind that observes what the mind is focused upon. As a teacher once shared with me, 'if you learn to control your attention, then you can control your mind' (Gen la Khyenrab). Like anything, this takes practice and familiarization. Meditation is the gym in which you strengthen your mind. Daily life is the sprint or marathon in which you get to test your preparation from the gym. Have you noticed that sometimes life's trivialities come in multiple sprints whilst others feel like they are never going to end? We all have them, they are never going to end. What can end is our negative reactions to them. Imagine having the freedom and control to respond to any difficult person or circumstance with a peaceful, attentive mind. The outcomes will be very different to those of anger, despair and frustration.
I remember a teacher once sharing an example of a gentleman who had recently been imprisoned. He was a regular family man with a steady job, a nice home, a wife and two kids. One day upon returning home, he caught his wife in bed with another man. In an instant rage of jealousy he attacked the man and killed him. He had been sentenced for manslaughter and his life had changed in an instant. I share this as an example of how unprepared our mind typically is and how, unless we are thinking in a preventative manner, we are typically reacting to what life throws at us. Our reaction can only go to our default mental habits.
'Adversity reveals character and we revert back to our training.'
Reading books about meditation would be comparable to reading books on the new fitness workouts. Until you get in the gym and starting moving and lifting weights, you will NEVER get fitter or stronger. Meditation practice requires your effort of concentration and correct attention to familiarize your mind with the very tools that will clear your mind and help you recharge and refocus.
Step 1, involves learning to control your attention in order to recognize when your mind is disturbed or distracted from either the immediate task at hand, or is experiencing a negative state such as anger, frustration or depression. Once you start to become familiar with this step then apply step 2.
Step 2 - Reduce
If you imagine that you see a small fire in a forest but you choose to do nothing about it, with the right conditions it won't take long for that fire to spread to an uncontrollable inferno. It is the same with your mind. If you become good at recognizing when your mind has a small fire of irritation arising, for example, but fail to act upon it, there is a good chance that your mind will wander, dwell and exaggerate that feeling and compel you to experience that full feeling. Ever feel moody? Did you know that happiness is literally just a thought away. No matter your circumstance, happiness is always a choice. It's a state of mind that cannot be controlled by ANYONE or ANYTHING but you.
Step 2 teaches us to learn how to reduce the fires within the mind before they spread and burn us. In Buddhism, they define these fires as delusions. A delusion is a part of our mind that arises due to inappropriate attention and causes an unpeaceful mind. Learning to reduce your delusions becomes the turning point in transforming your mind. In my book the Quick Path to Pain Relief, I discuss how happy, peaceful minds activate health and healing in the body. Similarly, when delusions are active in our mind, we initiate breakdown and dis-ease in the body. Just think about a time when by all accounts you should be experiencing a restful vacation. The sun is soothing, the ocean is glistening and you are relaxed in a slumber on a hammock. Suddenly, you start to think about a work project and deadline. Before you know it, despite the fact that you have all the right conditions for a restful vacation, your mind has wandered and you are feeling like you are back at work. A distracted mind, is like a puppy dog off leash. It struggles to remain on the best path and going back and forth and from object to object. It's very hard to experience a state of peace when the mind is wandering like this.
To reduce your delusions, you must learn to understand what their opponents are. I encourage you to download a free ebook - How To Transform Your Life by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso (available at www.howtotyl.com). The short edition goes like this: the opponent to a mind of anger is patience. The opponent to desirous attachment (often what we label as love) is pure love. The opponent to self-grasping ignorance, the root of all our inner problems, is a mind understanding emptiness, the true nature of all phenomena. These are known as the three root delusions, from which all other delusions arise. Take care of these bad boys (or girls) and watch the magic unfold!
Step 3 - Remove
To remove any bad habit completely requires discipline and effort. Imagine trying to cook some food on the stove but every ten seconds you remove it from the heat for a minute, then you place it on the heat again for another ten seconds and then remove for another minute. There is no way you will properly cook that food with this approach. It's the same with our practice of training the mind. If you are truly invested in learning to control the only thing that will ever bring you real happiness and peace of mind, then a regular practice with the right ingredients becomes imperative.
Initially, as I presented in my recent YouTube video, our current habits of mind are like being carved in stone. Our goals of a peaceful, undistributed mind are like being carved in water. To break the stone in which our current minds abide, we must use the appropriate tools. In Buddhism, these are known as Dharma. These instructions help us to chip away at our bad habits and foster new, beneficial minds of love, kindness, compassion, and the big one, patience. Through reading, listening, contemplating, and meditating on Dharma instructions we can dissolve the stone, carve our new habits of mind from water into sand and eventually these new minds will become carved in stone. Our old habits would shift to being carved in sand and eventually carved in water; they arise but have no power over us and dissolve back into the mind. We realize that they do not serve us and we do not welcome them anymore in our mind.
I encourage you to read this article and imprint these three steps in stone and make them your daily intentions to activate your health, happiness and vitality. Earlier this week I released my latest YouTube video, 3 Steps to Control Your Mind.
Remember, happiness is just a thought away!
To your health and happiness,
Jason Barlow, RMT.