A large portion of the thoughts and feelings you have are not yours, rather you pick them up from others. This may seem entirely shocking and untrue, but you can do an experiment to fact check this for yourself. Go for a hike alone on an uncrowded trail and take note of the number of thoughts you have. After you have been hiking for an hour or so, you’ll notice your mind is still and that you don’t have many thoughts. Next go to a mall or someplace crowded and walk around for a while and observe how many thoughts are running through your mind. In a crowded place you’ll notice your mind becomes very loud and full of thoughts.
It’s helpful to be aware of this phenomenon because if you’re around an angry person, you’ll notice that you’ll begin to have angry thoughts. If you’re around someone who is worried about money, you’ll be worried about money. If you spend a lot of time with someone who is depressed, you’ll feel tired or hopeless when you’re around them. When you realize that a lot of the things that you think and feel aren’t coming from you, you can be an “educated consumer” and not spend as much time with people or in places where you pick up crappy thoughts and feelings. You can also learn to not act on the emotions that you pick up externally that aren’t yours.
You have about 7 – 10 seconds before a thought gets stuck in your mind. When a negative or unhealthy thought arises, redirect your mind immediately before the thought gets stuck in a tape loop in your mind.
If you’re having a difficult time redirecting your thoughts, you can immerse your mind in a magazine, newspaper or book; you can listen to audio books or podcasts, or work on a project or hobby that completely absorbs you—whatever it takes to substitute the negative or stressful thought with something higher. (Music alone is usually not effective as an aid in mindfulness because your mind can still easily wander while listening to music.) For those who have a spiritual teacher they love, the most powerful and effective way to still the mind is to move your mind to an image of him or her.
Using this technique of switching your mind away from a negative or stressful thought before it takes hold isn’t meant to imply that you shouldn’t address the issue that is causing the troublesome thought. Instead the technique is useful when there is no action that can be taken at the time and the best thing to do is push the thought out of your mind. For example, if you are unemployed and looking for a job, you should of course do everything you can to find a job. However, once you’ve done all you can for the day, it doesn’t help your search to worry about it at night since worrying drains your energy. So as worry starts to seep in, employ the 7-second rule to keep it at bay. Another example is, suppose you and your partner broke up after many years together and when you think of him or her, it makes you feel really sad. In this case, employ this technique when you notice the thought of your ex creeping into your mind, so you can prevent the thought of him or her from getting stuck in your mind.
If watching a romantic comedy makes you pine for the perfect relationship and you didn’t feel this painful longing before watching, then don’t watch that kind of movie. If a song makes you miss an old lover or makes you sad in some way, then don’t listen to it.
It’s so simple. There’s no rule written anywhere that you have to feel sad or suffer over the past. If a song, movie, book, TV show, etc. makes you feel unhappy, turn it off. Although it’s true that some people love their pain and love to indulge in sadness, you don’t have to.
Please note I’m not receiving payment for any of these recommendations; these are simply things I like and use.
A Great Cushion Set. I like the ones from DharmaCrafts, and particularly like the zafus filled with buckwheat hulls. If you sit in half-lotus or cross-legged, the cushions with buckwheat hulls are great because they conform to your shape and prevent your legs from falling asleep. They also have a quiz to help you find which kind of cushion or bench is right for you. I love how many fabrics and patterns are available these days.
An iPod or other music player. You may say what the heck, why not just use my phone?! The deal is our phones have so much crap energy with apps, news, emails, texts…yuck! I don’t want any of that noise near my meditation, so I have a specific music player I use just for meditating. A fun extra with the iPod is you can have the back engraved with your favorite mantra, like om mani padme hum, which means the jewel in the lotus, and is a poetic way of saying that enlightenment is inside you, and indeed, inside everyone and everything!
A Great Pair of Headphones (or Earbuds) that you use just for meditation. I personally prefer headphones over earbuds. The sound quality of headphones is superior to earbuds, plus I don’t like having anything in my ears while I meditate. It’s similar to how jewelry you wear throughout the day becomes almost unbearable to have on while you’re meditating. That said, this is definitely an instance of personal preference (see the A-frame story)! Indeed, one of my best friends can’t believe I want those heavy old things on my head while I meditate. You can find extensive recommendations on Wirecutter for all kinds of great headphones and earbuds.
A Bell. My dear friend Ben says that if he walks into another room and forgets what he was about to do, he just walks back to the place where he was thinking the thought and picks it back up. Our thoughts leave impressions, so walking back into his old thought bubble, he picks the thread back up. But what if you don’t want all your old thoughts and dreams around? A bell is a great (and fascinating) way to clear them out of your space and mind. When you first ring a bell in a space, it will warble, but as you continue to clear the space, the ring becomes clearer and clearer until it rings precisely with no warble. At that point, you’ll find your room sparkles, and your mind is emptier and brighter. A good bell won’t make you enlightened, but it will make your life much easier! Check out Karen Kingston to learn more on this topic.
Lying, cheating or stealing for personal gain may give you a short-term feeling of happiness, but over the long run these actions will make you very unhappy. While these actions may not always hurt others, they will always hurt you. When you act without integrity, you end up spending an enormous amount of energy denying the actions were wrong—either by constantly pushing them out of your mind or by thinking things like, “They can afford it,” “She won’t really notice,” or “They deserve it.” The problem is when an action doesn’t have integrity, it will continually rise to the surface and niggle at you and prevent you from having a happy, peaceful mind.
If you miss an opportunity or mess one up, don’t give up, just catch the next “bus.” There will always be other opportunities, no matter how we’ve messed up in the past. We don’t just get one shot—life isn’t that chintzy. Other opportunities will be available, though they will most likely take a different form than the previous one.
With the advent of email, cellphones, text messaging, the Internet, etc. there are numerous ways for our focus to be interrupted. But when our attention is diffused, we don’t approach our interactions with people or our work with the same level of energy and intent that we do when we are focused. When we approach people in a scattered way, we don’t hear, understand and ultimately relate to them as well. When we approach work without our full attention, our work is not as clear and crisp, it takes longer to do and is not as satisfying to do as when we are focused. Even watching a movie while multi-tasking diminishes the experience. A movie takes you on an emotional journey, but when you switch your attention to texts, emails and phone conversations, your attention is leached out and the movie isn’t as funny, poignant or thrilling. In other words, when you don’t bring your attention to what you do, you miss all the good stuff. When you bring your full attention to work, play and relationships, they’re more intense, enjoyable and satisfying.
Keep on hand at all times great audio books, podcasts, music, books or magazines. It’s helpful to have something entertaining to do when you are waiting in line at the DMV or at the doctor’s office or when you’re caught in traffic or on the subway. There are so many draining situations that become the opposite when you have something interesting to occupy your mind.
Simplify your life so you have time to do the things you really love and that make you happy. Remove unnecessary and dull activities and relationships from your life. Also, look at the things you do out of obligation that you dislike and realistically assess whether you need to do them or not.
When the cashier at the grocery store is rude to you or someone at work tries to belittle your work, most times their behavior has nothing to do with you, but instead is a reflection of their own state of mind. That cashier is rude to everyone and that coworker tries to make everyone feel small. It helps to know this so we don’t take it personally and let it affect our mood.