Befriending not Believing
Updated: Mar 5
I sat crosslegged on a cold tile floor in a vast meditation hall with fifty fidgeting uncomfortable people.
For three long days that began at 4 am and lasted until 9 pm I arranged (and rearranged) pillows and blankets under my aching body in a desperate attempt to get comfortable.
Each time I came into the hall I tried a new position, convinced that eventually I would find a combination of cushions and positioning to prevent my pain.
Nothing worked. I finally surrendered to the pain in my body caused by so many hours of sitting. I abandoned my ritual distraction of cushion piling and was now only supported by one small red pillow. My knees ached and my back was on fire but I was strangely detached from my physical pain.
It was my mind that hurt the most.
A disturbing stream of words and images consumed all my attention like a raging wildfire. It was an unwanted movie behind my eyes with no pause or stop button.
Sitting in silence with no more distractions, I heard a constant narration of judgement, fear, criticism and anger, and it filled every nook and cranny of my mind.
There was no escape and I was truly terrified.
At the beginning of the retreat I thought that by now, three days in, I would be floating in a sea of meditative bliss. Had this endless monologue always been there? Was I going crazy? I had absolutely no control over what was coming into my mind and try as I might, there was nothing I could do to stop the barrage.
I finished the retreat without learning how to relate to these thoughts in a healthy way. I simply tolerated what I was seeing and hearing, and then returned to my daily life when the retreat was over. A life that, like most lives, was busy enough that I could easily ignore the voice in my head.
I wish I had known then what I know now. That I would never, ever succeed in controlling or ridding myself of negative thoughts, and in fact, attempting to do so only increased them.
Ignoring or tolerating the thoughts only served to enmesh me in my feelings and behaviors and react in ways that caused myself and others pain and suffering
Years later I realized that my thoughts are not preventing me from experiencing joy, freedom and peace.
The only problem with my thoughts is when I either ignore them or believe them.
What happens when I ignore my thoughts?
Even if I don’t consciously acknowledge them, they manifest in false beliefs and behaviors that don't serve my self or my loved ones.
What happens when I believe my thoughts?
When I believe, or overidentify with, my thoughts, I often find myself in a state of reactivity to other people and situations in my life.
What does it mean to befriend my thoughts?
Have you ever noticed how futile it is to "just try to think positive?" This is usually a form of ignoring or repressing thoughts.
Befriending means to listen, just as you would listen to a friend, even if you don't always like what they are saying.
A turning point for me was when my best friend Jen reccomended I read the book, “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer. In the book, thoughts are described as an “inner roommate” who talks nonstop, rarely has anything nice to say, and simply provides a never ending monologue of distraction.
My favorite quote from the book:
“There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing you are not the voice of the mind-you are the one who hears it”. - Michael Singer
As I listened I connected more with the part of me that was doing the listening. Some call it The Witness. Some call it Presence. Others call it God, Divine or Source. I feel it as love, spaciousness and kindness, for myself and others.
As I continue to listen to my thoughts with respect, consideration and curiosity, and not ignore or believe them, I realize most of my thoughts are just noise. They don't have much influence over me or my life, as long as they are being heard.
When I stay mindful, I am free to create. I am empowered. I am responsive, rather than reactive, to the people and situations in my life.
It's not always easy but in this practice, even small efforts have big results.
It takes patience. It takes curiosity. And, I believe it's easier with community.
I'd love to hear from you!