How To Make Friends With Your Mind.
AKA, your thoughts are basically cats.
Picture an empty room. Large. Square. The walls, floor and ceiling are all a crisp white. There are no doors. No windows. No decorations of any kind. The room is illuminated somehow but you can’t figure out where the light is coming from. Perhaps the walls themselves.
You are standing in the middle of this room. Or sitting if you’d prefer. You’re happy either way. You’re warm, comfortable, calm. The stillness, far from making you restless, is calming. You are totally at peace.
Life continues like this for nine months and it never once occurs to you that anything should be any different. Nothing is lacking. Nothing is superfluous.
Then, one day, without the slightest warning, 50 wild, hungry, razor-clawed cats are dumped into the room with you. They scramble around, hissing and scratching at you, the walls and each other. The blissful silence has been broken, seemingly never to return. The cats look at you accusingly. They, like you, are pissed.
Welcome to your mind.
Your mind is something like this. You are the person in the centre. Your thoughts and feelings are the cats. There is no escape. You know it must be possible for your mind to return to it’s former calm and serenity, but it never quite seems to work out that way in reality.
Instead, your head is filled with thoughts and fears and obligations that you try to coral into something vaguely resembling order. It rarely works though. Trying to consciously marshal your thoughts is like…well, like herding cats. Actually, it’s worse. It’s like trying to convince one of the cats to keep the other cats in line.
A veritable cat-astrophe.
The futility of fighting your thoughts should stop you from trying but it doesn’t. After all, your mind should work for you. Right? You just need to show it who's boss.
Under ordinary circumstances, you might well be able to assert your will over it. The problem is that you’re hopelessly outnumbered. Every time you think you’ve got a thought under control, two others sneak up out of nowhere and start clawing at you. You’re overwhelmed. You’re covered in fur and lacerations. Your only respite is that cats are so fond of taking naps.
On a good day, you are aware of a few breaks in the cat storm. You briefly recall the peacefulness that this room once represented. You feel strong. Centred. Invincible. One of the cats vomits on you.
On a bad day, you can be found huddled in the corner of the once pristine space. You remind yourself that the cats aren’t all bad. Some of them are cute and fluffy. Some of them keep more or less to themselves. Some of them are relentless, vicious balls of teeth and claws that attack at every opportunity, simply waiting for you to drop dead so that they can eat your corpse. You try to avoid those ones.
Thoughts and felines.
Meditation can be thought of as the practice of acceptance. No need to push “bad” thoughts away. No need to latch onto “good” thoughts. You simply let them come as they please. You don’t try to control them. You observe their patterns. Occasionally, you give them a little scratch behind the ear.
Rather than fighting them, you decide to pay attention to what they need. Your furry roommates aren’t your enemy. They didn’t ask to be there. They’re just in the room. Same as you. If you’re going to live together, you’ll need to figure out a way to work with them.
You catch more cats with catnip.
Rather trying to control them by force, imagine putting down a big bowl of cat food in the centre of the room. This achieves a few things:
The cats would be happier because they’d get something to eat. They’d all go running over to the food, meaning that you wouldn’t have to make any effort in rounding them up. And at least for as long as the food lasted, they’d have better things to do than bother you.
But the biggest benefit would be that they’d come to see you as a provider instead of an unnecessary nuisance which tries to control them. And you would come to see them as things that you’re responsible for. You’d see that fighting them is far less effective than working with them.
Meditation works in the same way. Only instead of giving your thoughts food, you give them something to focus on. Often this is the sensation of breathing, but it could be a mantra, or a sound, or eating a raisin. The “what” isn’t particularly important, the aim is just to give your thoughts something to do.
Thoughts, like cats, are difficult to keep entertained for long. Eventually, some of them will get bored and start sniffing around you again. This is fine, let them do their thing. Enjoy this break from the full onslaught. Keep feeding them. Use the knowledge that this is possible to get you through your day.
The domestication of your thoughts.
As time goes by you’ll find yourself settling into an uneasy truce with your furry foes. Hopefully, you’ll even come to stop seeing them as foes. They’re a part of the room. As much as the floors and the ceilings and the floor. As much as you.
Your mind isn’t your enemy. At least, it is only your enemy if you treat it as if it is. Though it seems chaotic, the mind is actually fairly simple and predictable. Learn its patterns. Be kind to it. Be patient with it. Like it or not, there’s no getting rid of it.
If you do this successfully enough, you’ll come to understand your furry friends. Maybe even love them. You’ll appreciate them for their unique personalities. You’ll learn to chuckle to yourself when one of them misbehaves. It’s only a cat after all. It’s not the end of the world.
And they, in turn, will come…well, to tolerate you. Sorry, that’s the best you can hope for. They are cats after all.