My mind likes to tell me…
- Something is missing in this moment
- There’s something wrong
- It’s time to panic
- I’ll never figure things out
- I can’t be happy until x, y, and z
- I’m not good enough
- The future is something to fear
- The past is something to hold on to
- The present is something to avoid
My mind likes to tell me all those things and so much more.
I used to take it seriously. I used to let its words dictate my every emotion. But now I’m learning to listen to my mind and just…laugh. Because my mind is like a perpetually paranoid and overdramatic friend. It’s not trying to hurt me – it’s actually doing its best to protect me – but usually it has no idea what the hell it’s talking about. So I listen, breathe, and laugh….
One of the greatest benefits I’ve gained from practicing mindfulness is a better understanding of how my mind works. After years of being held hostage by my thoughts and emotions, I’m finally able to take a step back and look at my mind from a (somewhat) objective point of view.
What I’ve noticed recently is that my mind typically functions like a broken record, but instead of replaying the same song over and over, it likes to keep me trapped in thoughts of the past. I constantly find myself replaying old memories in my head, ruminating on failed relationships, and wishing for days of old.
This has become especially clear to me since my breakup two months ago. While the initial sting of it has long since passed, my mind still loves to remind me of everything I used to have. It doesn’t matter what I’m doing. Sitting on a bus. Writing a blog post. Trying to help students with their English pronunciation. All it takes is a single thought, or even just a feeling, to send me spiraling down the rabbit hole of past memories.
As destructive as I’ve found worrying about the future to be, I think this habit of living in the past hurts me even more. Not only does it distract me from whatever I’m doing in the present moment, it also prevents me from putting all my energy towards creating a better future for myself.
I’m starting to wonder if my constant focus on the past is just a form of self-protection, because even if it hurts to think about the past – and it usually does – there’s a certainty in it that I can’t find in the future. I don’t know what’s going to happen, who I’m going to become, and if I’ll ever be as happy in the future as I was in the past. The past has basically become my comfort zone, and it’s easier to sit and dwell on old memories than take action towards something better. It’s easier to stagnate than to move on.
Noticing my fixation on the past hasn’t done much to stop it, but it has made me ask myself two important questions. The first is, “Does thinking about the past serve me in any way? Of course not! It may give me a hollow sense of pleasure at first (similar to the high I get from indulging in negativity or gossiping), but it never brings me more happiness in the long term.
That answer leads me to question number two: How can I stop living in the past? The obvious answer is to focus on the present moment. It’s impossible to live in the past when you’re fully present to the moment. However, being present to the moment is something I struggle to do with any consistency. It may be simple but it definitely isn’t easy.
The obvious answer is to focus on the present moment. It’s impossible to live in the past when you’re fully present to the moment. However, being present to the moment is something I struggle to do with any consistency. It may be simple but it definitely isn’t easy.
Another answer that comes to mind is using a combination of awareness (mindfulness) and patience, while also having strong boundaries when it comes to my thoughts. The first two are simple. It’s only through being mindful that I can catch myself dwelling on the past. And an integral part of mindfulness is showing patience and compassion towards myself. I’m only human after all, and the nature of the human mind is to focus on the past and future. Being mad at myself for having those thoughts only makes things worse.
But what about this whole “strong boundaries” thing? What I mean by that is having the discipline to look at the thoughts I’m indulging in and simply cutting out the ones that won’t bring me true happiness. That may sound a little forced, even harsh, but I think it’s the ultimate sign of self-respect and self-love. If I truly loved myself, would I dwell on the past? Nope. Instead, I would put all my mental energy towards enjoying the present moment and creating an awesome future for myself.
More importantly, though, having those strong boundaries requires a commitment to my own happiness. Thinking about the past is as addictive as any drug, and the only way to beat an addiction is to decide once and for all that it has no place in my life.
To end this post, I’d like to share a Wayne Dyer quote that I recently stumbled upon. I think it perfectly sums up the mindset I’m trying to develop.
“Your past history and all of your hurts are no longer here in your physical reality. Don’t allow them to be here in your mind, muddying your present moments. Your life is like a play with several acts. Some of the characters who enter have short roles to play, others, much longer. But all are necessary, otherwise they wouldn’t be in the play. Embrace them all, and move on to the next act.”
Today marks the start of my Spring Break, also known as Semana Santa (Holy Week) here in Seville. I’ll fly to Prague tonight, spend five days there, then head over to Bucharest for a couple of days. Then I’ll come back to Seville and hopefully catch the tail end of the festivities here.
While I always enjoy traveling to new places, I have a tendency to get a little flustered during my trips. Sometimes I worry too much about my travel budget or whether I packed enough clothes. Other times I find myself rushing from sight to sight, not taking the time to appreciate everything I’m seeing. So one thing I want to focus on during this trip is living each day intentionally and mindfully.
That means not abandoning some of my morning routines like meditation and journaling. Those simple habits help keep me grounded throughout my day, and I think being grounded is extremely beneficial while traveling. It allows me to slow down, make better decisions during potentially stressful situations, and enjoy each new experience more fully.
That last part is what traveling is all about, right? It’s so easy to get caught up in a kind of tourism-induced frenzy, rushing from monument to monument, focused more on snapping the perfect selfie than actually enjoying the beautiful sights and sounds around you. But what’s the point of visiting somewhere new if you don’t take the time to really appreciate the experience?
That phrase has been stuck in my head for the past month or so. It all started on a Friday night when I began bombarding my roommate with questions about our plans for the evening. I wanted to know what we were doing, where we were going, and who were going with. I needed to have a plan. However, in the midst of my stream of questions, he turned to me and said those magic words.
While they may have been little more than an attempt to stop my inquiries, his words of wisdom really struck a chord with me. They made me think of two of my favorite books, “The Power of Now” and the “Tao Te Ching.” Both books talk about the importance of accepting the present moment and not dwelling on the past or future. In other words, they talk about “going with the flow.”
Although this wasn’t a new concept for me, there was something about the way my roommate said, “just flow” that made the idea suddenly click in my head. In the days that followed, I started noticing how often I did the complete opposite. I was in an almost constant state of resistance, both mentally and physically. My shoulders were usually tight, my breathing shallow, and my mind full of anxiety and discontent. Rarely was I able to just relax and enjoy the moment.
So I began reminding myself of my roommate’s words. Whenever I felt tightness in my shoulders or noticed resistance in my thoughts, I’d take a deep breath and say to myself, “just flow.” From there I’d do my best to stay connected with my breath and fully relax into the present moment.
The effects were pretty small at first – I’d relax for just a moment and then find myself caught up in resistance once again – but I stuck with it. Well, I think it’s better to say that it stuck with me. The whole idea of “going with the flow” sounded more and more appealing each day. I realized that it’s something I want to truly embody, and the last month has mainly consisted of me exploring different ways of doing that. The most notable have been guided meditations, yoga, tai chi, and reading up on philosophies like Taoism.
I’m not really sure where this newfound interest in going with the flow will take me, but I think it will be somewhere good. At the very least it will encourage me to stay mindful of when I’m resisting the present moment, and that mindfulness is a tremendous source of peace in itself.