An overactive mind can be a major barrier to experiencing inner peace and happiness, particularly when we feel overrun by patterns such as anxiety, fear, worry, guilt or self-criticism.
Faced with a relentless stream of troublesome thoughts, the prospect of finding inner peace and contentment can seem a distant one.
How to stop the incessant flow of thoughts that the mind churns out?
How to weed out the pesky, peace-sucking ones and replace them with pleasant, desirable ones?
The short answer to these questions is that you can’t. And you don’t need to.
I remember saying to one of my teachers: “I can’t stop thinking.”
And his reply: “You are right. Nobody can."
That is just what the mind does. It churns out random thoughts all day long, jumps constantly from one thought stream to another, thrives on creating problems, creates endless drama and it never stops, even for a moment. All minds do this.
But it needn’t be a problem ….unless you make it one. Just mind your own business and stop giving it so much attention.”
Of all the advice I had ever received on dealing with my overactive mind, “mind your own business” was a new one on me.
I have since come to see, however, that it is actually the only real solution.
Trying to stop our thoughts or fix the content of an overactive mind is like trying to stop the rain or fix the weather. The mind, like the weather, just does what it does, whether we like it or not.
Although we have little or no control over the content that the mind churns out, how we relate to it is entirely in our own hands.
The key to making peace with an overactive mind lies, not in attempting to change the mind itself, but in changing our relationship with it.
Having an overactive mind can be a bit like having a loud TV blasting in your ear all day long. Most of us constantly feed the 'mind TV' through being compulsively pre-occupied with it. In truth, the mind only has as much power as we give it.
Withdraw your attention and it loses its power to affect your peace.
1. See the mind, don't be the mind
Normally, when we are lost in incessant thinking, we believe that “this is me.” We are fully identified with being the mind.
How do you know that you have a mind? You are aware of it, right? How can something that you are aware of be you? Anything you can watch cannot be who you are.
All types of thoughts move across the screen of our awareness - happy ones, sad ones, pleasant ones, unpleasant ones. Another part of you, let’s call it the ‘witness’, is aware of all these passing events in the mind. The witness remains unaffected by the types of thoughts that appear on the screen of your awareness. It is always at peace.
2. You have no control over your thoughts
The mind does its own thing. It is impossible to know what the next thought is going to be. We play no part in determining the thoughts that randomly appear in our heads. They are not personal.
3. Take the mind with a large pinch of salt
Don’t believe everything the mind tells you. So much unnecessary suffering comes from taking unfounded assumptions and false beliefs as fact. The mind tells a lot of lies.
Get into the habit of regularly asking yourself the question: “Do I know for certain that this belief or assumption is true?” You will find that the answer is almost always “no”. Seeing a belief as false removes any power it has to affect your peace.
4. Good doesn't necessarily mean pleasant
As thoughts appear on the screen of our awareness, we unconsciously label them as good/bad, right/wrong, desirable/undesirable and so forth.
Prior to this labelling, thoughts are neutral events passing through our field of awareness. It is the mind’s tendency to judge thoughts as good or bad that causes us to welcome some and reject others, thus creating peace or suffering.
Who says, for example, that feeling sad is bad or undesirable. It is entirely possible to feel sad or to have negative thoughts and to remain perfectly at peace. Thoughts are not personal.
5. Resistance creates suffering
Perhaps the main key to making peace with an overactive mind is to drop our resistance. Everyone, without exception, has a chaotic mind that churns out thoughts from morning till night.
When we believe that there is something ‘wrong’ with the mind as it is, we naturally want to push some thoughts away and hold onto others. In doing so, we create suffering for ourselves.
We experience peace to the extent that we allow the mind to be as it is, without resisting.
“Leave the mind in peace to do it’s thing and it will leave you in peace to do yours.” - from Kick The Thinking Habit.
6. Thinking is a choice
Although we have no choice over the thoughts that appear in our mind, the act of thinking can be a conscious choice. Understanding the difference between thoughts arising (no choice) and thinking (choice) is crucial to experiencing more peace.
Most of our thinking happens unconsciously on autopilot. We can spend hours, days or even years lost in unconscious and unproductive thinking. I explore the topic of how to stop thinking in detail in my book Kick The Thinking Habit.
7. BEING PRESENT
Learning to be more present in the moment is the most effective way to pull the plug on an overactive mind. Mindful Meditation is a wonderful tool for achieving this.
The mind exists in time, either re-living the past or anticipating the future. Keeping our attention fixed firmly on the present moment is the best way to rein in the monkey mind and prevent it from getting up to mischief.
Regular meditation practice is also helpful for developing the habit of ’seeing the mind, not being the mind’ and, in doing so, breaking our identification.