When I loved myself enough, I realized my mind can torment and deceive me, but in the service of my heart it is a great and noble ally ~ Kim McMillen
It can seem a wild and dark road, this path of self-discovery. It’s frightening to begin the journey in earnest. What if I discover I am as horrible (as I secretly suspect that I am)? What if I really am without worth? What if I am dull? What if I am pitiful and without hope of change? Not knowing myself, I don’t realize that these secret fears are written on air. They are smoke, they confuse the way until one begins, when they are blown away in the wind of discovery.
But what if what I discover is unsettling? What if it points to an unused potential, to wasted years? If I discover that I have value, what does that say about all the years I devalued myself? Ah, so many thoughts, so many fears, so many emotions. They can dig a deep ditch in your mind, around and around, deeper and deeper, until you are stuck. But truth beckons. Truth is freedom. Knowledge is freedom. Knowledge of yourself is the grandest freedom of all.
When once you understand that you’ve been distracted by smoke and mirrors, when it falls into your gut that your mind has been lying to you, you can begin the process of discernment. Noticing my thoughts is a practice I have had for almost 30 years, since I first realized how critical I was of myself, how much self-loathing consumed me. I noticed for years, trying to change the course of my thinking and having only little success.
Then I stopped trying to change. I realized that I was judging myself harshly even in my efforts to improve. When I returned to meditation practice 20 years ago, I slowly began to change my relationship with my thoughts. When I sit, I practice with my thoughts. Thoughts can make themselves seem much weightier than they are. Here comes a thought: it hooks me, there is a story line, the video begins playing, my brain releases hormones, my body tenses. All from a thought! On my cushion, I sit quietly. I notice my body, releasing any tension I find. I breathe, noticing my breath. A thought comes. I feel thankful, this is the practice. I let it float by, like a cloud in the sky. I am not the cloud. I am the sky beneath it. When the cloud passes, the sky is still there. It isn’t changed by clouds or storms or birds flying. My mind is like that sky. I let it pass, I notice my breath, I relax my body.
If the thought catches me, wonderful! Now I can practice letting go before my body gets too involved. I release the thought. I notice my breath. I relax my body.
These decades of meditation and mindfulness have taught me how to retrain my brain. This is where the plasticity of the brain is so miraculous. You can use your mind to change the neural pathways. Just because my brain sends a thought, it doesn’t mean it is true, or that it has any particular weight to it. I can let go of thoughts quickly most times, when once I notice that it isn’t really true or necessary or kind. I can return to my breath. So my brain, which was for years used to criticize, demean, and imprison me, is now my friend, helping me to have clarity, kindness, and an affectionate friendship with myself.
What began as a frightening prospect is now life-giving. My mind is retraining my brain to help me know myself ever more, becoming more compassionate, more open-hearted, less judgmental of both myself and others. How marvelous to return to my cushion, to return to all of my practices. How glorious to befriend myself, the one who has been with me always.
Step into the fire of self-discovery. This fire will not burn you, it will only burn what you are not ~ Mooji