Tuesday, June 09, 2015

The Control Of Thoughts

I once received a kind email from a total stranger who lives in New York and who somehow found my blog and daily thoughts.  His note made me smile because he said I was “the Jerry Seinfeld of spirituality and Zen”.  This made me smile because I am a huge Seinfeld fan.  He asked me for some advice about controlling his thoughts and over active mind.  The experience of receiving this email reminded of a daily thought I once wrote where I referred to my thoughts as “seeds tossed into the wind.  You never know where they will land or who they will touch”.  The following was my response to his inquiry.
You really can’t stop your thoughts.  Many of us, including me, have what the Buddhists call “monkey mind”.  They describe our minds as a tree full of chattering monkeys jumping from limb to limb.  All is not lost, however, as there are ways to deal with this.  The practice of mindfulness and paying attention to one’s breath works very well.  Zen is basically being where you are and doing what you are doing.  Mindfulness helps us to do this.  The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, is a master of mindfulness and has written several good books on the subject.  His approach is to focus on your breath.  Admittedly, it is difficult, if not impossible, to be conscious of every breath.  However, when you feel yourself going in ten different directions or you are overwhelmed with your own thoughts, simply stop and focus on your breath.  Breathe in through your nose into your diaphragm and slowly exhale from your mouth.  Thich Nhat Hanh also recommends a mantra like “Breathing in, I am awake.  Breathing out, I am present”.  I find this works very well.  It also helps me if I am feeling anxious.  
Don’t be discouraged.  You are not alone in your struggles.  All the things you think about and worry about might just be part of the stage of life you are currently experiencing.  When I was younger I had more worries and challenges than I do now that I have reached  senior citizen status.  As I tell my wife, who worries constantly, most of the things you worry about will probably never happen.  Life has a way of taking care of itself and us.

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