Have you ever uttered words so harsh, you wish you could take them back? Our society encourages us to speak our minds, but we are rarely trained to think before we speak. In our desire to be heard, we often forget about the lasting impact our words can have on us and those around us.
A majority of us have visited the hall of shame for calling others nasty things to their face or behind their backs, or for scheming and thinking mean thoughts about others. I recently attempted to understand why I reacted so harshly in seemingly benign circumstances, and how I could learn to let-go negative thoughts fogging up my head.
I consulted books, audio tapes, YouTube videos from renowned new-age philosophers like Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, and the revered Dalai Lama. Though I am only beginning to understand what yields a truly serene mind, most philosophers seem to agree on the critical building blocks for lasting inner peace – practicing silence, being more mindful about actions and thoughts, and only reacting when necessary.
To the mind that is still the whole universe surrenders – Buddha
Though the ingredients for a peaceful mind are simple, putting them to practice is hard. For one, practicing silence is the hardest, and here’s why. Have you ever paid attention to the millions of thoughts speeding through your mind? I started paying attention to the content of my thoughts and observed that on most occasions I was either worried about future events, engrossed in past events, or labelling and judging someone else’s actions. The strange thing was the thoughts were repetitive – as if a tape was playing over and over in the head. So much so that I often drifted in this virtual world with no connection to my present world, and with no awareness about what was happening around me.
Unfortunately, the mind cycles I observed were not different from what my friends were experiencing. Many friends constantly talked about their mental battles, or the perceived pain others were causing them. The truth is that all of us are trapped in this virtual world, with no clear way of finding peace and true silence of the mind.
In Silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves – Rumi
Yet, over the past month, I have made a conscious attempt to observe my mind more actively, and have tried to be more mindful about the things I say and do. Though I am far from achieving perfect serenity, I am listing some valuable tips that have helped me find fleeting tranquility.
Listening to the mind chatter
The human mind has the a remarkable capacity to observe it’s own actions. Instead of “doing” the thinking, the mind can also be trained to “observe” the thinking. It’s almost like sitting on top of your thoughts and observing what the mind is saying. The exercise might sound silly, but is very critical in improving self-awareness. Each day, take out a few moments to observe the content of your thoughts and you will see that the mind seems to have a “mind” of it’s own. More importantly, our inner self (being or soul) is actually a separate entity from our mind. When listening to our mind’s chatter constantly, we forget the voice of our inner self. Once the differentiation between the mind and the inner being is made, it is easier to detach ourselves from the constant mind chatter. It becomes easier to put a mental STOP to the idle and non-stop jabber.
Breaking free from the negative mind-cycles
The mind is reactive, predictable and follows patterns of negative thought cycles. We often find ourselves slipping into a thought and spending countless minutes acting out the virtual thought – thinking, re-thinking, worrying and feeling lost. The only thing that can break this cycle is being present in NOW, as stated by Eckhart Tolle in his book – The Power of Now.
Once you get trapped in a string of thoughts, it is important to bring the conciseness back to the present situation. No matter how much we think about the future or the past, we cannot change a thing by worrying. In fact, bringing ourselves back to the present, is key to appreciating life. Breaking free from the negative mind-cycles takes practice, but it’s not impossible. The exercise must be repeated daily, till we can stay in the present moment for longer time spans. This does not mean we should not go about the constructive business of the day. We must carefully plan our day out and achieve the needful. But we shouldn’t let our mind chatter take over, derailing us from what’s important.
Silence is not an absence of sound but rather a shifting of attention toward sounds that speak to the soul – Thomas Moore
Appreciating the silence within
Even if it lasts for 2 seconds at a time, we must observe and appreciate the silence we experience within our inner being – moments of complete tranquility. Have you ever marvelled at the lovely night sky and the stars? Do you remember the feeling of wonder and peace that filled your entire being? Next time observe the feeling more keenly and be grateful for the mind’s capacity to let go! Now imagine feeling the same sense of wonder and appreciation for all good things around you. It is bliss we have all experienced at various points in our lives.
Silence is the great teacher, and to learn its lessons you must pay attention to it. There is no substitute for the creative inspiration, knowledge, and stability that come from knowing how to contact your core of inner silence – Deepak Chopra
Regardless of the religious or cultural affiliation, people around the world have found innovative ways to appreciate the silence within. Many spend time alone, others go to places of worship, and still others meditate. For beginners, focusing on breathing, or chanting silently can help focus on the inner silence; for experts, practicing transcendental meditation or Om meditation regularly helps focus on the inner being.
There’s no right or wrong when it comes to “practicing silence”. The idea is to spend time alone with our inner being and focus on what we are feeling now – not the future and not the past – just now. Tweet This!
In my personal experience, meditation can have a powerful affect on my inner being. Though far from being an expert, even 10 minutes of meditation a day can leave me calmer and more focused. On the flip side, meditation makes me more sensitive to sounds, lights and emotions, so much so that I have to be mindful about overreacting to heightened sensitivity I am experiencing. Appreciating the impact of mediation on your well-being takes time and practice.
A few moments of silence may be all the meditation we need at times. Our homes could have a little space for withdrawal and quiet, and even a small garden could offer some distance from noise – Thomas Moore “The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life”
Knowing when to and how to use words
Powerful words can create revolutions. With the power of technology and gift of social media, we are all citizen journalists today. The Global Occupy movement, citizen uprising in many parts of the Middle East, movements against corruption in India, were all bolstered by the voice of the socially conscious citizens. It is important to have opinions and voice them! A person without opinions about critical world issues is barely part of the larger world community.
However, before we spring into action and express strong ideas, we must analyse our inner motivations. Words emitting from negative emotions such as jealousy, anger or resentment will harm others. On the contrary, words emitting from positive emotions such as gratitude, mirth and bliss have the capacity to heal.
Therefore, we must self-examine our inner being, let silence and peace assist us in crafting useful words, and only react when we need to.
Inner peace is just around the corner, we just need to practice silence to get there – Tweet This!
- Meditation’s Positive Residual Effects, Harvard Gaz ette
- What Happens to the Brain When You Meditate (And How it Benefits You), Lifehacker
- Deepak Chopra on Listening and Stillness, Gaiam
– Written in response to the WordPress Weekly Challenge