Mindset Training Week 1: Commitment
Slap, slap, slap, slap. The sound of my shoes striking earth was a rhythmic drumbeat, drowning out a waterfall of thoughts. My breath was the metronome for my feet. I inhaled thick, humid air deep into my lungs, then let it wash out of my body, taking with it any lingering concerns. A layer of sweat suspended on my skin, beet red from the Thailand sun. Bamboo towered over my path, an emerald archway. Curiosity guided me as I darted and weaved up and down hillsides, exhilarated. All that existed in this moment was me and the air I breathed. It was freedom.
Jaya Ganesha, Jaya Ganesha, Jaya Ganesha Pahimam. I began to pant the chant from the morning’s meditation. Sri Ganesha, Sri Ganesha, Sri Ganesha Rakshammam. It was October 2013. The yoga teacher training in the hills of northern Thailand had introduced me to Lord Ganesha, the elephant god and remover of obstacles.
I came to a crest overlooking the labyrinth of Chang Rai’s rolling green hills. I scanned the horizon, confirming I was a little lost. I didn’t mind being a little lost. I felt a bit lost in life, so it seemed appropriate. Divorce, and after that another relationship that exposed my disastrous emotional health, had thrown me into a washer on spin cycle. I’d emerged shaken, sodden, not knowing what was up or down. All I knew was that I could not go down the road I had gone down in the past. I would not be a victim of my own life.
I began to navigate my way toward where I thought the ashram might be. The trail wound to and fro. Nothing looked familiar, but everything looked the same. Bamboo, now fluorescent with the waning light, created shifting shadows. Fear arose in my belly. As I began to doubt myself, a thought slipped into my mind from the day before: a session instructing us to place trust in God when afraid. I’d recoiled at the mention of God—and the memories of my religious upbringing I’d long since rejected.
The God I was taught about as a child was a person, a man. He towered over me in the sky, judging the rightness and wrongness of my actions according to a long list of do’s and do not’s. Go to church, say your prayers, bear testimony to the only true church, pay your tithe, do not swear, do not drink alcohol (or tea or coffee), do not get angry, do not be immodest or tempt men, get married in the temple, be nice to everyone, be thin and beautiful, have lots of children, always do what is right, be perfect. And if that weren’t enough, my childhood home was permeated with tension surrounding my mother’s depression and emotional outbursts followed by my father’s avoidance of resolving conflict. Every move I made felt like tiptoeing on the proverbial eggshells, trying to parent my parents as well as myself, keeping everyone around me calm. On the inside, I was a volcano always on the brink of eruption. Regularly, I would lock myself in my room and cry uncontrollably for hours, not knowing why or how to stop it. The only solution for my emotional health, I’d been told, was to pray to my Heavenly Father. Well, I must have had a missed connection, because I felt like I was ugly crying into a dial tone.
No, I would not believe in a God that left me feeling the way I did when I reached the age of 18.
As I ran, hoping I was on the right path to the ashram, I softened to God for the first time since my youth. I began to contemplate a new version of God. Who was this God? Where was he or she? How could I trust a presence so difficult to perceive? At the moment, God seemed further away than my home in Seattle.
God, if you do exist, where are you? In this remote land, deep in self-reflection, I needed to know if there was a greater force out there. I placed my full concentration on my question to the universe through my own heart. I had to know. I had to find my own truth.
A jolt stopped me in my tracks. I felt a ping from the center of my chest like a text alert. Here. I heard a voice whisper. It has always been here. My heart glowed with a subtle yet powerful sensation. It was a sense of remembering, like when you forget where you put your keys—then realize they are in your hand. At that moment, I knew: God was not this big judging man in the sky ready to levy the wrath of hell upon me, it was this feeling in my heart, the mobilizing energy of a loving God within. God was Love: the Love that exists in everything and nothing.
As I stood in solitude so far from home, I knew was exactly where I needed to be. I trusted Love to lead me back to safety. I committed myself at that moment to live a life centered upon faith and self-mastery. When I saw the familiar signs pointing the way back to the ashram, I began to sprint.
My swami sat at the front of the class, his bright yellow robes pooled around him. His large brown eyes contacted mine. I was a lobster-red sweaty mess. “I got lost,” I wheezed. “But I was found.”
The thirty days I spent in Thailand was invaluable to my process of self-discovery. I was able to remove myself from my environment and all variables that influenced my daily decisions, and become an observer of my own mind. I explored questions such as: Who am I? What have I been taught and subsequently absorbed as truth, and how is that different from what I sincerely believe? What direction do I want to go with my life and how am I going to change course? In Thailand, I found not only myself, but a more conscious way to live my life.
I didn’t go to Thailand to learn how to meditate, yet the habit has remained with me ever since. Currently, meditation is a twice daily routine, one I prioritize above all else. It’s my opportunity each day to connect with God as Love. A single-pointed focus with the heart open to healing wipes the blackboard of the mind, giving an unmatched clarity.
COMMIT TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE
To change your life, you must change your mindset. In the Train the Mind, Heal the Heart program, meditation is the tool you’ll use to reprogram the habits of the mind. Don’t skip this part of the program: even if it seems difficult at first, make meditation an essential part of your day, both morning and evening. The subtle shifts in your brain will have a compounding effect. Daily meditation links the heart and mind to a higher power, initiating the conscious process for evolution, teaching you to concentrate, self-heal, and process uncomfortable emotions.
Meditation is plugging into the healing vibrations of Love. You meditate by concentrating on the source of power, love, vitality, and wisdom. This Source is visualized as light, the finest visual element of the universe. In meditation, you turn the gaze from the physical world into the energetic and spiritual realm. Meditation is necessary to reset from the chaos of the world that will never bring peace, and connect to the source of peace that calms the mind and body.
Your practice of meditation initiates by sitting in silence with eyes closed. The body is stilled and focus placed at the third eye point between the eyebrows. The mind will follow the body in stillness with commitment to your meditation practice. This one simple task will transform your life.
To illustrate the effects of meditation on the brain, picture a rave in a large warehouse. Music pumping, a crush of bodies vibrating. Suddenly, the music shuts off. What happens? Instant roar from the crowd protesting the silence. If the music is turned back on, everyone starts dancing again. If the music remains off, slowly and with resistance, people start filtering out and going home. This is what meditation is like. At first, the restless mind protests like these rave kids. Don’t just sit here, do something! This is pointless! Ignore your inner rave kid. It takes persistence and regular practice, but slowly, uncomfortable emotions like anxiety, frustration, and the constant desire to move are processed and lose their intensity. Eventually, you can fully concentrate upon the much more subtle vibrations of your higher consciousness. The warehouse empties and there is peace. Meditation resets the mind and heart to equanimity.
As it is whenever you start something new, your mind will want to procrastinate meditation. When you’re just able to convince yourself to sit for stillness and silence, the mind jumps all over the place. This is why you’ll ease into the habit gradually. First for one minute twice a day, and increasing up to 28 minutes over the course of the program. After enough time, your strengthened concentration will enable you to sit with the mind, letting your thoughts float in awareness. It takes time to develop steadiness and retrain yourself not to act on the mind’s every whim. Through meditation, awareness cycles inward away from sensory stimulus and quiets the mind’s insistent prompts. The anxious mind worrying about the past is calmed. The planning mind of the future is taught patience.
When you think of meditation, does the image of a dimly lit room, candles, an altar, or crystals appear? It doesn’t have to be this complicated. Keep it simple when starting out. All you need is a place where you can be uninterrupted: a corner, a mat, a cushion, anywhere you get alone time. Over time, you can refine your practice and add objects that have spiritual meaning to you, but don’t worry about that in the beginning. You’re initiating a new habit, one that the mind is ready to fight you on. Each morning upon rising, before you make your morning coffee or get something to eat, sit on your cushion, set a timer, and follow the instructions in the Meditation section of each chapter.
Each time you sit to meditate, follow the three principles listed below.
BECOME THE OBSERVER
Warning! The mind will not stop thinking when you tell it to. In fact, it will probably seem to form more thoughts than normal. Your goal is not to stop thinking. It is to identify thoughts, and stop identifying with them. It is to begin to see the mind as a tool or as and extension of you, rather than you itself. Following the constantly changing mindscape often leads to confusion and analysis paralysis. When this happens, pause and reset. Truth is confirmed with peace. You are the calm thinker, not the restless thought. Instead of following the thoughts, relax and observe them flow. Become the observer of the mind. Look at each thought wheel like a birdwatcher. Identify thoughts, feelings, and emotions as if you are standing with binoculars, still as can be, calling out each species of bird as it swoops by. Observation is the starting point to mental investigation.
When sitting in silence, you may feel agitated. This is a good thing! The feeling of discomfort means that you’re giving space for what you’ve suppressed. Bringing up feelings and the memories attached to them will equip you to clear out any old stories linking the mind to self-limiting behaviors. Relate to yourself from the perspective of the feeler, not the feeling. Put your detective hat on and say to yourself, “There is something here to investigate.” Through the course of this program, you’ll build the tools you need to fully clear limiting emotions. For now, when an uncomfortable feeling arises, ask questions like “What do I feel when I relax around this feeling?” and “Where do I feel this emotion in the body?” Be curious about the source of the emotion. As you do this, you create space around emotions, and they start to lose their power over decision making.
REFRAIN FROM JUDGMENT
Nothing is good or bad, it simply is. Judging thoughts as bad will bring limiting emotions like shame, guilt, and self-hatred. When judging arises in the mind, notice it. The mind is programmed to put thoughts into a good or bad category. When you say to yourself that a thought or feeling is bad, what you’re telling yourself is that you are bad. This is counterproductive. Think of it as another clue in your investigation of the mind. You are retraining the brain to ask “Why did I think or feel that? Where did that thought originate?” Instead of thinking “I am bad for thinking that,” ask “What kind of thought is this?” Identify your thoughts in a descriptive rather than moralistic way: This is a happy thought. This is an angry thought. This is a judging thought. This is a planning thought. Simply note the thought for what it is, separate from you.
For each chapter, you will be given an on-cushion and off-cushion meditation practice. Your on-cushion practice is sitting in silence and concentrating on the breath. During off-cushion practice you will apply the positive effects of your meditation into your active life.
ON-CUSHION: ONE-MINUTE MEDITATION
For Chapter 1, begin your on-cushion practice with a one-minute meditation, twice daily: morning and evening. Write out “I am the observer of the mind.” “I investigate emotions.” and “I practice nonjudgment.” Post these phrases in your meditation space to remind yourself to calmly notice thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
- Sit on a cushion with your legs crossed.
- Align the vertebrae of the spine by sitting up tall and stacking your shoulders over your hips and your ears over your shoulders.
- Start a timer for 1:00.
- Close your eyes and focus the gaze on the backs of the eyelids.
- Rest your hands on your knees or in your lap.
- Gently breathe in and out through your nose.
- Inhale: Repeat silently to yourself, “Love.”
- Exhale: Repeat silently to yourself: “Love.”
- Continue until the timer goes off.
Notice the feeling of peace after meditation practice. This is Love awakening from within. Affirm I am worthy of love.
OFF-CUSHION: BE THE OBSERVER
Continue the practice of noticing out in the world. Become the observer of your life. What would your day look like to an outsider looking in? Bring awareness to your senses: see, taste, touch, hear, and smell. Notice when you’re triggered with emotion and what caused the feeling to arise. Observe the tendency to judge yourself and others. Note times of peace and calm.
Complete introspection questions and values exercise from your TMHH Workbook.