Befriending the Beast

The mind can be our best friend or our own worst enemy. It makes a great servant but a poor master!

Most of our suffering, whether it be in the workplace, the athletic arena, or at home, comes from the workings of the mind in some form or fashion. I remember reading a line in a mindfulness magazine that said, “Reality is kinder than illusion.” Our minds can create some pretty wild illusions! Mindfulness brings us back to reality and out of the “virtual reality” of the mind.

So, with that said, I want you to think about the most obvious way that your mind creates suffering. What is the “mental beast” that you’re living with every day?

I came up with this idea of befriending the beast when I was deeply struggling with scary and intrusive thoughts post-partum. I have lived with what some may call obsessive-compulsive disorder since I was about eight years old, and in a way, it helped me as a gymnast. It didn’t make life fun, but the perfectionistic tendencies and incessant need to “make things right” constantly drove me to work harder.

Again, I’m not saying I recommend this approach! There are many more healthy ways to succeed in life than through an obsessive drive and compulsive need to be perfect! I just want to point out that this has been a common theme in my mind since childhood.

During the last trimester of my pregnancy and for about a year post-partum, I struggled deeply with terrifying and intrusive thoughts. It was almost as if a broken record was playing in my head with scary words and images, and it was a constant effort to somehow stay present.

I tried shutting it off and would get incredibly frustrated and downright desperate at times. Needless to say it was exhausting.

I did get through, however, in a step-by-step and moment-to-moment fashion! I attribute it to the capacity to first recognize that thoughts are thoughts, but ultimately, to bring kindness and self-compassion to the depths of my suffering.

Although the terrifying thoughts created physical reactions in my body, there was a deeper knowing within me that these thoughts were not the truth. This was my saving grace.

The next step was finding a neutral place in my body where I could shift my attention. So, I discovered that my hands and feet were comfortable most of the time, and they became a grounding place for me. So, the scary thoughts would come in, I could see them, and then immediately shift my attention to my hands and feet.

The final step of compassion took the practice beyond mindfulness. The first two steps were mindfulness of the thoughts and mindfulness of the body, but the third step brought in what could be called “skillful means” or “a heart-centered practice”. The final step was visualizing, breathing and saying to myself “deep love and compassion”.

I would envision breathing self-care and kindness into my heart and out through my heart and repeat the words a few times with each breath.

So, to me, the beast was these terrifying and intrusive thoughts, and through recognizing them as thoughts-real but NOT true-I had a little bit of space around them. Finding refuge in the body in the present moment moved me out of the mind and into a safer place. Finally, the love and compassion created the energy of befriending and offering myself kindness for the depth of the pain and suffering that these thoughts were creating.

Now, the first time I did this process, the thoughts were just as powerful and painful, but by about the 500th time, I could start to notice how I could automatically shift out of the thoughts and into the body. By about the 1000th time, I could actually feel the element of compassion which translated into some ease in my body.

I tell this story because I was able to bear witness to my own brain and physiology changing by using mindfulness along with some self-compassion and love. We don’t need to berate or further judge ourselves when our minds seem to betray us. There is a softer approach that is kind and much more pleasant!

Your beast may not be in the form of intrusive thoughts but could be self-criticism, judgment, catastrophizing, doubt, anger, or fear…just to name a few. Our minds learned these patterns somewhere along the road usually as a form of self-protection. So, we don’t need to berate ourselves for thinking these ways. We can simply recognize them as mental patterns, and understand that they are not the truth of who we are.

We are never stuck in patterns that don’t serve us. Mindfulness can allow us to see these patterns and recognize the “beasts” that burden us. From this place of awareness, we can then begin to shift our attention skillfully and actually rewire the brain and nervous system. It’s nothing short of miraculous!

You don’t have to beat the beasts to death. You may find that through befriending, the beasts actually transform into something beautiful.

I would love to hear your experience with “befriending the beasts” of the mind!

And if you feel in need of support, please contact me at theresa@fit-intuit.com or visit my website at fit-intuit.com.