MINDFULNESS ... OR MINDLESSNESS?
These days mindfulness and the techniques for this have become mainstream. Many in our times – more than at any other point in time in humanity’s history – are working day in day out with mainly their brains as tool, as “knowledge workers” in a service economy.
Hence the increased need for – learning to – bringing the mind to rest again, to quiet the mind; and also the reason for my facetious proposal to use the term “mindlessness” rather than mindfulness when the goal clearly is:
less mind, more heart & body!
I’ll never forget the “sacred dance” workshop I once did and where one of the participants nearly begged to get a switch in her head, to stop the flow of thoughts in her head. I’ve heard that plea in several other workshops. Many long for tranquility, for stillness in their heads.
Thoughtless might be the ideal, but the best thing you can do is become thoughtneutral! There are only very few humans these days who can truly stay thoughtless, and they are mainly to be found in (zen)Buddhist and similar monasteries. I don’t think that’s something you are aiming for. So you set your target at “thoughtneutrality”.
How do you do that?
The key to this for me is to be found in acceptance, letting the current of thoughts just be that, a flow of thoughts, rather than trying to stop these. The latter is like installing a dam, behind the dam a big lake arises… that is how it goes when you try and stop the thoughts. You cannot “not think”. The more you struggle with them, the more energy you put into it, the stronger the thoughts become.
What I found to be efficient and have learned to apply is twofold:
1. Meditation: the label "thought"
A good number of years ago I read a very practical meditation-book, ‘The Meditation Bible’ by Madonna Gauding. The book contains a whole list of possible, more or less short meditations. I was – and still am – very interested in the one aimed at “centering”. I still apply it to this day, in everyday life and not just in moments of meditation. You learn it first in meditation practice, in order to be able to do this at any given moment during the day, when you feel it is needed because you feel "stuck in your head".
Now how do you do this? You start to (learn to) observe the flow of thoughts, instead of identifying with every thought. You don’t (try to) stop the thoughts, you kind of look at them, without judgment: “ah, there, a thought”. You immediately add the label “thought” to it and send it on its way, out of your mind and being. Another version of this meditation has you put a more specific label on it: “work”, “shopping”, “boss”, “kids”, etc. My approach however is that you let the thought be what it is, just a thought. Do not identify with it in any way, do not give it any more attention. In other words, you don’t engage with the thoughts, you don’t “entertain” the thought. When you add a name (e.g. “work”) to it you have already engaged with the thought, you entered into a – brief as it may be – conversation with it. The aim is to stay in the “now” and with yourself, so don’t go analysing what the thought (about this or that somewhere in the future) relates to. To me it is preferable to not even allow that analysis-moment, not even that much, to the thought. Just going: a thought comes and a thought goes. I like, and find the following very applicable in this respect (I found 4 different sources credited for this statement: Byron Katie, Jerry Bridges, Jenny Bogart and Thubten Chodron - gratitude to whoever said it):
“Don’t believe everything you think”
You simply choose for yourself the one that works best/easiest for you: (i) a general label “thought” without naming it any further, or (ii) a specific label. It might be that you have to apply the specific label method for a while, before you can switch to the general label. It all depends on how easily you already can allow your thoughts to flow like a river: you watch the river and not the individual drops of water.
If you like and are good at visualising you can visualise a kind of helmet or earmuffs. This is made up of a male figure on the left [your brain’s left side controls your body’s (masculine, positively charged (+)) right side] and a female figure on the right [your brain’s right side controls your body’s (feminine, negatively charged (-)) left side]. The man and the woman look in front of you, as you yourself do, and hold each other’s hand across your head. This way they form a helmet around your head. The right hand of the man in the left hand of the woman, leaving the left arm of the man free and the right arm of the woman. Every time a thought arises you have the man and the woman push the thought through with their free arm, out of your head. “Move along now” you can have them say, as they push along the thought.
You (visually) coach yourself this way!
In doing this, you replace every judgment you might have with Love, yes, feel Love for all of this.
You can practice this any time of day, anywhere you are. In a first phase you might want to sit in a quiet spot to learn this, once you get the hang of it you can do it anywhere anytime.
2. Heartfulness: heartcentering & grounding
Secondly, again years ago (Institute of) Heartmath crossed my path. This (for profit) organisation did and does research into the workings of our heart. Very interesting stuff! Did you know your heart sends more signals to your brain than vice versa; and that the field generated by your heart is many times stronger and larger than the one generated by your brain? This as a side note; because what is important to mention as a second element in arriving at the “mindlessness” is their Heart Rate Variability (HRV) measurement tool. I will not deeper into the subject of HRV here.
The tool nowadays also comes in the form of an app for your smartphone. This is the link to their website https://www.heartmath.org/
The tool I found very useful in learning to center in my heart. The instrument measures your HRV and yes, when you get into your head instead of your heart your HRV value drops and this is indicated by the tool. Using your breath, by focusing on it – as if you are breathing in and out from your heart –, you can get your HRV measure to the optimal level. “Optimal” here also means optimal for your health and sense of wellbeing.
Again, if you like and are good at visualising, you can imagine how you take an elevator – or an escalator or whatever it may be for you –, down from the brain into your heart. If you notice yourself getting back into your head, and the HRV instrument will for sure indicate that, then: “down the stairs again” or “into the elevator, down again”.
In my experience this is also a good way for grounding. You get much more in body and can have physical sensations. The first (many) times I practiced with the tool and was able to reach optimal HRV I got… superheavy eyelids – at least, that’s how they felt. I was clear awake and yet I hardly was able to open my eyes the first 5 to 10 minutes after each session meditating and centering with the tool. It was as if my eyelids had reached optimal relaxation, completely at rest… and wanted to remain some more that way. It was clear to me that a lot of tension had built up there, and this was releasing more and more every time I did the exercise.
So, (learn to) focus in your heart.
Bring your centre of attention from between your ears to between your lungs.
This also allows you to get easier, conscious access to that grand feeling our hearts can generate: Love!
You don't have to buy the Heartmath tools, these are an aid for you. You can try without it, or maybe you will find something with similar effect that appeals (more) to you.
In all this you learn the ability to feel Love for everything, also the less fun stuff in Life (and which we often give a negative label): being angry, feeling of loneliness, your fears, etc.
These are 2 things that helped me tremendously in arriving at “less mind, more heart”. From mindfulness to Heartfulness. I am not totally free of thoughts, but that wasn’t the objective. I still get (stuck) in my head at occasion, and sometimes that’s just necessary (certainly if you are a knowledge worker):
Your mind is a beautiful tool and aid, but don’t make it your master!
Become your own best life coach! Steer yourself.
If you found this helpful, please share. Thank you.
If you wish to know the whole story of how I came to this, you can read up on it in “In You you should trust”; see the “Books”-section of this website https://www.life-coach-healer.be/en/books