The following is an excerpt from Cory Allen’s new book, Now Is The Way, an unconventional approach to mindfulness. Allen is one of our favorite colleagues, and an expert on meditation and binaural beats. Visit him at cory-allen.com.
You Are Not Your Thoughts
Life evolves from circumstance. What we experience is a series of situations. We do one thing and that leads us to the next. Although it is seamless, most of what happens in our lives comes together by chance. Let’s say you found a lucky “heads-up” penny while you were walking down the sidewalk. That’s a lighthearted and fun momentary feeling that happened by chance. There was no plan that brought this experience into your life. At no point did you call up a friend and ask them to leave a heads-up penny at a specific location and time for you to “stumble upon.” You found it by chance. That’s what made it lucky and exciting.
Much of life works like the lucky penny. All the parts of the world follow their own little narratives as they unfold through time. There are so many story lines going on that they can’t help but bump into each other. Randomness serves each of us exhilarating wins, deflating losses, and a lot in between. But this chance woven through our daily walk is a big part of what gives life its magic. We never know what could happen next. And that’s what makes us want to keep following our story and watching for that next lucky moment.
The mystery of chance isn’t only out in the world. It’s also in our mind. The random thoughts that pass through our minds can lead us down all sorts of interesting paths. Think of how many times you made what felt like a basic choice that ended up leading to the unexpected. There is a potential for surprise waiting in everything. Even in the thoughts that arise in our mind. And this brings up a valuable point. You are not your thoughts. You are the thoughts you turn into action.
Each of us has an endless supply of thoughts that form in our mind, which then move along and disappear. Remember, we have a new thought almost every second of the day, so there is plenty to go around. Each of the thoughts that form, whether good or bad, comes with a certain amount of potential. A large part of mindful living is being able to recognize thoughts as they appear and respond to them, not react. Responding and reacting might sound similar, but there is an important difference: When you react to your thoughts, your actions are based on reflexes. When you respond to your thoughts, you are self-aware and able to act in a mindful way.
Intentionally choosing the thoughts you decide to turn into actions is what builds who you are. Inside the privacy of your mind, you’ll get stuck on a negative thought sooner or later. We all do many times a day. But, if you engage with the present, you can recognize that thought as negative and choose not to express it. This is a simple and powerful way to reduce suffering. By letting that negative thought pass, you kept yourself from expressing it to the world.
This means that the only place the negative thought existed for a short time was in the privacy of your mind. You then allowed it to evaporate and move on. When you chose not to turn the negative thought into action, it kept the negativity from becoming part of who you are. This allows the reflexive snarky comment, defensive verbal jab, or unfair judgment to move by without hurting anyone.
Being mindful and aware of how we express our thoughts also gives us the power of potential. If we can face the chance of our day with a present mind, we’re less likely to get into situations with negative potential. When we are aware of the thoughts that are arising, we are prepared for almost anything. It enables us to be patient, make compassionate choices, and reduce the suffering in our lives.
One of the ways that we get lost in a momentum of distraction is by getting pushed around by what is going on in our life. Each of us feels like we have a bit more than we can handle showing up on our plate each day. The stress of making sure we do what we need to do to make our lives happen can be draining and make us frantic. What if we have so many meetings at work that we have to eat lunch walking from one meeting to the next? What if we’re stuck in traffic when we’re supposed to be meeting our partner for a special dinner? Life happens, but we can set up for success by building things into our day that help us stay engaged with what is before us.
Giving some sort of shape to your day makes a remarkable difference in how you feel. Even though this is a simple thing, building a gentle daily structure is something that many people miss out on. It isn’t their fault for missing it. They are simply too overwhelmed by the frenzy of their grind to have the space to think about anything else. And that is what adding shape to your days will give you. Space. Breathing room. Steady rocks to step on as you walk across the bubbling river.
Pick up the book, Now Is The Way, available in hardcover, audible, and Kindle, on Amazon.