My favorite affirmation or mantra during a yoga class is “I am not my body, I am not my mind.”
In a physical yoga practice, it can be challenging not to identify with the body as it is the one carrying out the asanas. The mind kicks into full force and begins telling you stories about your yoga practice and your progress.
It can cause you to lose motivation and even create more tension in the body which is not what you are going for at all! In meditation, the mind often runs wild as well.
This is NORMAL!
The mind will drift away and you can choose to get it to come back. It is important not to judge yourself when this happens, and most importantly, to remember that your identity is not tied to your thoughts. You can change your thoughts, and create your own reality.
In this article, I discuss the mind and its function, why you are not identified by your thoughts, and how to rewire the brain to make your mind work for you.
The Mind’s Job Is to Think
One day, I was distressed in a ten day silent meditation course, so I booked an interview to speak with the teacher. I felt like I was going crazy. We were expected to sit in silent meditation up to ten hours a day! (Learn more about this experience in Detoxing From Stimulation: Learning Patience and Trust Through Vipassana Meditation.)
My mind was usually racing through thoughts, memories, and future-telling projections - including the death of most of my loved ones. I would sometimes imagine every last detail before catching myself and returning back to focus on my breath.
Distraught, I confessed this to my teacher. I said “I think I’m going crazy. I can’t stop thinking and it’s usually very dark. My mind is addicted to thinking!” He laughed and said, “Yes. That’s what it does. Just like your nose is addicted to smelling, your ears addicted to listening, and your eyes addicted to seeing.”
The mind is inherently designed to think. It collects information based on what you have experienced up until that point, as well as energetic information that your mind may be unable to consciously decipher, and from there it creates thoughts.
Sometimes they are logical and helpful, while other times they could be incoherent and distressing. You also may not always be aware of the source of your thoughts.
Do not become distressed simply because the mind is overactive especially during an attempt to meditate or any other mindfulness practice. (Learn more in 4 Methods to Mastering Your 'Monkey Mind'.)
You can gather information about your state based on the business of your mind, but you cannot gather information about you as a person.
You are not your thoughts. Your mind is separate from You. Its job is to think, but with practice you can train it to be a good employee of your Higher Self.
You are not the Habits of Your Mind
When you are prone to anger, sadness, or any other emotion, you will find that identifying with those emotions will only perpetuate them. If you take anything away from this article, make it this: you do not have to identify with any thought, feeling, craving, or desire that comes into your mind.
Since our thoughts are a combination of experience, exposure, chance, and so many other factors (some of which we cannot control) we cannot take complete responsibility for them. That is because you are the witness and the observer.
You are the “I” that watches the thoughts. The thoughts are not inherently “you” or even necessarily true.
As a mental health professional, this is why we use person first language. This means the person comes first. A person is not depressed or suicidal, they are a person experiencing depression or thoughts of suicide.
The thoughts that constitute a depressive episode do not define the person and they are able to change.
Some extreme examples to illustrate the difference between a person and their thoughts can be seen in the world of forensic mental health. This is the study and treatment of people who commit crimes. When it comes to violent crimes, there are people who have thoughts and are unable to separate themselves from them.
As a result, they act on these thoughts. There are many individuals who think seriously about committing murder or, in another even more extreme example, there are individuals who are diagnosed as experiencing a sexual orientation of pedophilia.
There are many people like this who will never act on these thoughts.
The difference for these people is that these people do not identify with their thoughts. If they did, they would likely commit these horrendous acts of violence simply because their thoughts are telling them to and they do not see a separation between themselves and these violent thoughts.
This is the unfortunate case for many people.
If more people could learn about detaching their identity from their thoughts, I believe there would be less violence in the world. Although these are very extreme examples, it is a concept that can be applied to any unwanted thought that you may have.
You do not have to act on thoughts or desires that lead you in an unwanted direction. You do not have to label yourself bad or evil — as well as good or pure — based on the thoughts you have. Dark and light exists within all of us and in the whole Universe. (Learn more in Light and Dark: The Spectrum of Human Experience.)
You do not have to identify with the stories your mind tells you based on your thoughts or experiences, dark or light.
Rewire the Mind to Support Your Health and Goals
It has been said that you are not responsible for the first thought that comes into your mind, but you are responsible for the second.
This means that you do not have to identify with what comes up naturally, but you can take responsibility and action in regards to the second and all subsequent thoughts.
Thoughts carry a vibration and sometimes very sensitive people may pick up on other people’s thoughts without even knowing it. If you find yourself thinking unwanted thoughts in the presence of certain people or in certain environments, you can make a conscious choice to choose to be around different people and environments.
It is common for people to find their thoughts are more scattered based on other factors including mood, sleeping patterns, and substance use as well. Use these patterns to determine how to best support your mind.
Make friends with your mind. Lovingly accept with compassion and without judgment any thought that comes up that you may deem to be undesired. (Learn more in Befriend Your Chattering, Manic Mind & Meditate Through the Running Commentary.)
With these strategies and lots of repetition, neuroscience research shows us that you can rewire your brain to make the first automatic thoughts transition over time into more desirable ones.
You are the Constant
Thoughts are transient in nature. Like waves crashing in from the ocean or clouds rolling by in the sky, they come and go. The waves and current are not the ocean.
Actually, the ocean is made up of infinite water and life. It is a living organism that creates the space for waves, aquatic life, and so much more.
That is You.
You are the ocean. You are the constant, the witness, and infinity.
You are not the waves. You are not your thoughts.