Updated: Jun 1, 2020
We make ourselves unhappy by projecting our beliefs, our standards and our fantasies onto ourselves, other people and situations. This is why we chase success and compare ourselves to others, making ourselves miserable in the process.
I hear the train a comin’ It’s rollin’ ’round the bend, And I ain’t seen the sunshine Since, I don’t know when I’m stuck in Folsom Prison And time keeps draggin’ on Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash & Willie Nelson
Our minds make up stories to explain what happens in our lives. Our minds also make up rules to protect us from our fears. We believe the stories and rules. The stories tell us that things are a certain way, we are like and that or lack that. The stories give us certainty but often fool us into feeling worthless or hopeless. The rules help us avoid scary situations but they we are afraid to break them in case our fears come true. So we cling to the rules and make them part of our personality.
Breaking out of prison
We don’t have to believe the stories or follow the rules. But first we have to break free from our mind prison. The greatest tools we have for this are mindfulness and meditation. Mindfulness and meditation are part of the same spectrum, and the spectrum goes from from being totally immersed in what we are doing through to total focus on nothing. Somewhere in between there is a form of mindful meditation, where we notice our thoughts and feelings without following them or judging them.
It takes a lot of practice, my Zen master has says meditation is like sitting under a bridge by the side of a river. Suddenly your mind climbs up on the bridge and goes hitchiking. Before you know it you are miles away, absorbed in your mental dialogue. That’s okay. Time and time again you notice that your mind has wandered and you come back and sit under the bridge.
Practice makes us free
Eventually you notice that your mind is wandering as it happens, and you notice that instead of feeling urgent, your thoughts look familiar. Yes, in fact the same thoughts have been torturing you for years. Thoughts about hopeless situations and your own worthlessness. You recognise the thoughts, and because they are familiar, you don’t have to act on them right away.
You’ve had these thoughts for years, so you can take a little break from them for then next 10 minutes and the thoughts can come back later. It’s not like you are ignoring an urgent warning. If the thoughts are right, you can agonise about them tomorrow. But maybe just for today you can be free.
The next thing that happens is that the thoughts still happen, but they are even less urgent. In fact it feels like the thoughts are talking to themselves in another room. You don’t have to be involved in them other than notice them. You slowly realise that the thoughts are just mental chatter, the accidental flotsam and jetsom of our minds trying to make sense of the world for us.
Then you realise that you are not your thoughts. In fact you don’t even have to believe your thoughts. Now you can tune out the mental chatter and get on with your life. Or notice the mental chatter going around in circles and have a laugh about it to cheer yourself up.
You are free from your mind prison.