photo for staff spotlight April

“You think too much.”

I’ve been told that more than once. And you know what? The people who said it were right. I’ve always been a worrier—I worried about everything! I also have a great imagination, which, as a writer, is an asset. But I used to believe that I had to think out everything I was going to write in great detail before I wrote it. My mind was a very busy and rather messy place!

I say “was” and “were” and “used to” because I have been working hard to change this. In retrospect, it occurs to me that all that thinking and worrying and imagining was a way of trying to control the world. It was as if I thought that by worrying enough, I could prevent bad things from happening.

I think we all know that’s not how it works.

The mind is a beautiful and miraculous thing.  But the same mind that can write poetry and solve problems can also cause tremendous suffering. A beautiful mind doesn’t use our memories and imaginations to torture us with thoughts about what happened in the past or the infinite unknowns of the future.

Once I began to delve into yogic philosophy and wisdom, my eyes and mind were opened to a wonderful realization: this practice that I loved so much could also be the key to reining in my overactive mind. It could help me reduce or even eliminate the unnecessary mental suffering caused by “thinking too much,” and it could help me be more fully engaged in my life, right here, right now.

I began meditating, but for a long time, I felt like I wasn’t getting the hang of it. My mind wandered. I criticized myself for not doing it “right.” More often than not, I fell asleep!

What eventually helped me was finding a mantra —a set of gentle, loving phrases to repeat over and over. Before long, I found myself repeating them not just during my meditation time, but when falling asleep at night, upon awakening, while taking a walk, driving the car or simply sitting quietly. After a few months of this practice, I found that if my mind started to conjure up worrisome thoughts, I automatically shifted it back to my comforting phrases.

I feel calmer now and more present in this life with which I’ve been blessed. I rarely worry. And as a writer, I’ve found that not thinking so much before I write allows a freer flow of creative inspiration that takes me to delightfully unexpected places. In my writing and in my daily interactions, my words, actions and responses feel more heart-centered and authentic than they did before.

Before this practice, I secretly doubted that the mind could be retrained. Of course others said it could be done, but they were yogis, gurus far more enlightened than I. They seemed to me somewhat like members of a special club with a secret password that the rest of us were not given.

But having experienced it myself, I can say with confidence that yes, we ordinary humans really can control our minds rather than letting them control us. The key was, and is, practice. Diligent, almost constant practice.

In his book, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Sri Swami Satchidananda writes, “As the mind, so the person; bondage or liberation are in your own mind.” I prefer liberation, so I return to this practice again and again. And again.

Relevant Yoga Sutras:

Yoga Sutra 1.2:  Yoga is the restraint of the fluctuations of the mind.

Yoga Sutra 1.12: These fluctuations are restrained by practice and non-attachment.

Yoga Sutra 1.13: Of these, practice is effort toward steadiness of the mind.