(…no, I’m not talking about some sort of hero’s superpower. Frankly, if I’m asked which of those I prefer, at the moment I would probably say something like speed, or endurance. To be able to run without ever getting tired. So far removed from my current experience, I suppose.)
What I’m talking about is not controlling other people’s minds; I’m talking about controlling my own. This has come to my attention in a few different ways of late, many of which are concerned with dealing with my illness, but can, I’ve realised, be equally relevant to life outside of that.
The week before last in our group session we talked about controlling and substituting our automatic thoughts. This is the stuff that comes into our minds when faced with certain situations. For example, I spill something. Often when we do something like this we can think to ourselves – ‘oops, I’m so clumsy/stupid/careless’ – where does that come from? Why not just ‘oops, I’ve spilt something, I better clear it up.’
My own experience is that it depends on frame of mind, current circumstance and also physical well being – i.e. when we are desperately tired or feeling out of sorts we are much more likely to overreact or generalise or feel it’s some sort of conspiracy against us as individuals: why does this always happen to me?
We were looking at how to substitute these thoughts with more helpful (and more rational) thoughts. E.g. ‘Actually, this happens to everyone’. By looking at the evidence for our conclusions (which lead to an emotional response: guilt, anger, anxiety, despair) we can challenge that initial thought which leads to the emotional impact which, in the case of those who are not well, leads to more energy drain on an already weakened supply. I have to be careful of thoughts which say ‘I will never get better’, for example.
So that’s a taster of what we were discussing. Another way I have been thinking about ‘mind control’ is as a part of my daily rest schedule, and the fact I’m supposed to be Relaxing with a capital ‘R’. Some of the relaxation aids I’ve tried talk about witnessing thoughts coming into your head, like trains into a station, and choosing not to board that train. You acknowledge the presence of the thought and then let it pass by.
I like this idea of literal trains of thought – it makes me think of changing trains. I started to think of life in general – and more specifically my life as a Christian – and all the thoughts – good, bad, and ugly – which assail my mind each day. I say my mind because I know some people’s minds are not so busy as mine – there are those of us who find it particularly hard to ‘switch off’, but nevertheless I think this applies to everyone. We all get thoughts which are unhelpful, sometimes downright harmful.
I started to think of not just witnessing my thoughts, but labelling them. Such as ‘save for later’, ‘dismiss‘ or even ‘resist at all costs.’ Often it is said that by becoming aware of something, we are taking our first steps towards improving the situation. So I’m beginning to register more clearly thought patterns which arise in my head, step back a little and consider its merits – or whether it has any at all. And if necessary, pulling my mind back to something different, even if it as simple as the feel of breathing in and breathing out, concentrating on a simple function such as stretching out my shoulders.
Mind control – a habit formed by training, or discipline. The simple exercises I’ve been doing in my rest times are teaching my mind to pull back and focus on one thing i.e. my breathing, the music, relaxing my muscles. What I want to do is expand this to include the whole of life – so that when my mind encounters a destructive thought, an unhealthy thought, a bitter thought, I register it as such and consciously ‘pull back’ my mind and let that thought go.
Not an easy thing. Never an easy thing in a world where minds are continually fed by images, words, expectations. But if I believe that God has given his Holy Spirit, my counsellor, then I can believe I do not do this on my own. That he draws my attention to ugly thoughts and gives me an alternative. And that when I make mistakes, and find myself getting stressed and upset because I dwelt too long on a thought I should have let go, I can still pull back, I can know his comfort, and the assurance that he will never let me go.
I am on his mind continually, he knows my every breath. I only pray that I can learn to be aware of him more and more, until that day when at last all is fully known – and I will see him face to face.
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. – Romans 12:2a