I woke up this morning and the inner merry-go-round started rolling: The night could have been better, maybe I should have switched out the light a bit earlier yesterday, today is quite a busy day, I don't feel like grocery shopping, will I have time for a walk in the sun today? I hope my son does not cough anymore and can go to the Summer camp - and oh!, I really need to call the municipality.
The mind is thinking and thinking and thinking
Do you recognize this? Every day, right after waking up, the inner commentator grabs the megaphone and gets going. Unwantedly and unintentionally the machinery gets started and unwinds the program that is continuing all day long, whether at breakfast, at work, while shopping or during conversations. The mind is thinking, evaluating, planning, speaking and regularly gets me into trouble.
We are often so used to listening to our inner commentary and inner parts that we usually don't question what they are saying. The inner critic lectures me on my sugar and caffeine consumption. The rebel spends the lunch break with YouTube-videos of old flash mobs and has no desire to read or chill in the sun. An angry part is upset about the behaviour of people who are depicted in the sensation-hungry media. The inner driving force doesn't allow too long breaks, there is still so much to do! The good child obeys and works without grumbling and without paying attention to the body's clear pause signals. An anxious part speaks up after reading the news.
Thinking is not a mistake, but not always helpful
The mental comments are not a mistake. The inner parts develop with our history and our life since the day we are born. Getting to know the inner family system (IFS), first described by Richard C. Schwartz, is a deeply exciting journey. How this journey can be taken on and whether the last paragraph evoked any resonance at all is not important here. However, everyone knows the chatty mind. Once again: this is not a mistake, this is simply how the brain works. It is thinking, just as the lungs are breathing and the heart is beating.
But the important question should always be, "Is this helpful?" When I was trying to create the program for my next course, and a past workshop came to mind, I remember having gotten so distracted at one point that I lost the thread: "And there were only 4 people registered. Do I need to do more advertising? Is it me or the topic? But, well, I always enjoy teaching, no matter who is sitting in front of me. Still, it would be nice to have more people in the audience. And this one person looked so bored. And the place wasn't exactly ideal either, the music group in the next room was quite annoying. Oh, playing the violin in the orchestra back then was fun. It's a pity, I think I would like to become part of a music group again, but then how will I find the time...?"
Instead of working creatively and inspired, emotions and thoughts come one after another, which also agitate my body. The answer to this question is very often: "No, that's not helpful right now."
When we detach ourselves from the inner comments, which often seem so extremely important, then the monkey mind that is jumping from thought to thought develops into a notion of "this is here ... and this ... and this." Awareness notices everything that is part of life now – and not just the mental chatter that often seems so prominent and demanding. Thinking is only a fraction of what life is all about. We are much more than our thoughts. We are the awareness behind the thoughts that can notice: There is a thought. And in my stomach I feel the breath. And there is a sound. And there is a throbbing sensation in the left knee.
Being does not scream
Whenever the thoughts threaten to carry me away into fears, worries about the future, "What about the planned holiday?!", into the feeling of groundlessness and lack of control, into a "yes, but ... this is annoying/is difficult/stresses me out"; I always try to remember the question: Is it helpful? And I try to listen to the volume of the thoughts. My teacher once said: if your inner voice is loud and demanding, then there usually is a pattern speaking and an expression of the doing mode – trying to reach something or analyse or judge or drive or pull in a specific direction. The being mode is not loud, being simply is. It is this gentle voice of curiosity, of honest care and of openness to what is here.
In my MBSR-courses I always mention the metaphor of the teaspoon of salt. A teaspoon of salt in a glass of water makes the water undrinkable. The same teaspoon of salt in a lake is not of any importance. Yes, the inner commentary is here and it is sometimes helpful, necessary or constructive. But often it is just mental chatter, and then – or rather always – it is about looking to see what else is here in this moment.
What else is here?
This is the basis of a mindful way of living: noticing what is, with present, non-judgmental awareness. Being here and experiencing life fully. When I wake up in the morning and notice my brain in action, I try to expand my awareness. What else is here besides the thoughts? I have woken up and my leg muscles still feel a bit heavy, and I do not feel like getting up, and I rush with my thoughts already into the day, and I am breathing, and it is 5: 47 in the morning, and I am thirsty, and the bed is very warm and comfortable, and I hear a cock outside, and daylight comes into my room through the open door to the corridor, and today is Thursday, and what kind of stretches would my body need right now?
Why not try to simply add more "and" into your experience and see what it feels like?
P.S.: This is not where the mindfulness practice should stop, as we need to show up in the world and try to engage and contribute, now more than ever, it seems. But finding a stable ground is essential. And sometimes it is all we can master right now.