I remember during my first meditation retreat at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY in 1997 when, it was either Jon Kabot Zinn or Saki Santorelli who said, “Your thoughts are to your mind as your breath is to your body,” implying that thoughts will always be there. That was followed up with, “you are not your thoughts.” This concept was what connected with me most as I began my meditation practice during this week-long workshop as taught by in the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program from University of Massachusetts.
Since that day, I have made a conscious effort to observe my thoughts. It turns out that this was something that I was doing anyways because, as stated previously, the thoughts are always there. At first, I would just take notice that I was even thinking trying to do as little as possible to react to that particular thought. I did my best not to get too high or too low emotionally. Often, I would judge myself for what I was thinking. With practice this became less of an issue.
Then, I recalled another instruction, “whenever you find yourself taking a ride with your thoughts, simply notice that you were on a ride and simply go back to your breath.”
We have all had those moments when we were daydreaming, or meditating, and would think about a set of circumstances that would launch ourselves into another world where we would be either living the dream or have just been presented with the worst of all possibilities. Oftentimes, I have found myself on that ride and I could either relive my past or project some event onto the future that in all likelihood will never occur. This was the revelation that allowed me to be certain that I’m not really crazy. This thinking, thinking, thinking is happening to everyone. It turns out, it is up to us to decide how we want to deal with this. As I became more aware that my thoughts were not going to stop, I really didn’t want them to.
The most recent evolution in the meditative process for me is how to change my thoughts. This may sound diabolical, akin to programming human beings, but it is my experience that this is something that we have chosen over our lives. I like to call it the Habit Of Health and would like to make a case that our thoughts are habits that we have repetitively practiced for years and years. Not only that, there are coexisting genetic changes that take place to support the changes in your thought patterns.
Now those of you who know me, I love doing yoga and fitness has been a priority of mine for decades. So, as a person that is focused on one’s body, my initial intention was to use those lessons on mindfulness to improve my physical practice. I had been practicing Hatha Yoga consistently for many years and even though I was working very hard on the practice, I never felt like I had much a handle on yoga and still felt dependent on whoever was leading the class. I didn’t know it at the time that yoga was and is still my ticket to the promised land, but now I see in retrospect I wasn’t connecting with the practice in any meaningful way despite all of this hard work. Then, I go to this meditation workshop and then, all of the sudden, I can connect by mind to my body.
It was amazing. Cataclysmic. All I had to do was to observe the sensations, thoughts, and feelings that were involved in every yoga pose. What I discovered, if I “let go of my mind, if I got rid of all of that chatter” my physical yoga experience would change instantly and I would get deeper into the pose. It was crazy. It didn’t make complete sense, yet it worked and I loved it. In fact, I continue to work with the same model and apply it to literally everything in my life to this day. It was then when I began to notice how sensation manifests in my body. The sensation could be stiff and constricted, or could be expansive and flowing. I refer to this sensation as an Energy Flow. Using this model I am now able to work on an area of my body with a stifled energy flow and cultivate it into a more flowing and expansive experience. This is the practice. It only takes a second, it just may take a few years to get to that second. The good news, using this process, I became more flexible. I was and remain addicted to this practice.
Sorry for the side bar, but that is not the point I want to make. What I would like to focus on is that by extending the same model to my thoughts I developed enough awareness that the energy flows were not just a jumbles of energy chaos, there was an order. And, then patterns of energy flows emerged and I could get deeper into the pose by solving these energy puzzles. By the way, it's a lot of fun because you just plain feel better and better each and every day.
Until, I realized that our thoughts are simply energy flows. And, just like with your body anatomy I discovered patterns of thoughts that were consistent. It was like I would go down the same road over and over again without knowing, surprised when certain aspects of my life were not serving me.
Something that I point out often is that we are culmination of our habits, for better or worse, and the most powerful maneuver we can make in life is to change a habit from one that is toxic to us in some fashion to one that serves us and makes us healthier and whole.
If nothing else, take away from this that YOU ARE NOT YOUR THOUGHTS.
Dr. Michael Dangovian, DO FACC