The Power of the Mind

Posted on Sep 16, 2017 in Self-Help

There is no question, fantasies that forecast the future and memories that fish the past have the potential to profoundly influence how we feel and act in the present. The following examples aim to shed light on the fluid nature of one’s current reality. (Defining “fluid”: a substance that has no fixed shape and yields easily to external pressure.)
Each example presents two scenarios:

Example 1:

  • Imagine that it’s a late October evening and you’re hanging out with friends playing truth or dare. You choose dare. Your friends whisper and snicker as they craft your challenge, finally presenting to you that your dare is to go outside in the freezing cold… in your bathing suit! You slip on your swimwear and only after a full five minutes of psyching yourself up, you push open the front door and make the brave step out. You would likely feel the temperature hit, identify it as cold, and tense up. Your shoulders would scrunch and mentally you’d fixate on the discomfort. You would be in a state of distress.
  • Imagine now that it’s a late October evening, this time, you’re attending a gathering at your friend’s cottage. You hear the group call for you to join them in the hot tub. Sporting only your bathing suit you exit the house to make the relatively long trek down the hill to meet them for a very welcomed, warm bath. Walking at night, in the fall, with so much bare skin exposed you’d surely feel the temperature. You’d note that it was cold, but it likely wouldn’t affect your actions in the same way it did in scenario one. In anticipation of the hot tub your body would remain fairly relaxed. You might even walk tall. To an onlooker, There would be no apparent discomfort. 

The external, physical setting in scenario one and two do not differ. It’s the same body, in the same temperature, for the same amount of time. The set for both these scenes has been built to match, the only difference – a thought about the future. The prospect of relief from the hot tub did not change the air temperature, but has the mind, and therefore the body, responding differently.

 

Example 2:

  • Imagine that you’re sitting in your living room alone. This means that beloved family member X is not in your physical presence. They have left for a cruise vacation and aren’t even contactable at this time. You catch a glimpse of them in a framed photo on the mantle and think of them fondly. In this moment, you’d likely be content. The absence of this person wouldn’t greatly impact your feelings.
  • Imagine now, that you are sitting in your living room alone. Beloved family member X is not in your physical presence, this time however, it’s because they have passed away several months prior. You catch a glimpse of them in a framed photo on the mantle. You’d likely be sorrowful. You’d be all-consumed in thoughts of how this person won’t be involved in your future. Your current state would be sadness and despair.

The external inputs for scenario one and two do not differ. This is the same person in the same room with the same lack of company. These sets have been built identically, and yet because of the dissimilar internal dialogue, they play out entirely differently. In one, an onlooker would observe a person at peace on the couch, maybe even perusing a magazine. In the other, they might see someone collapsed in tears on the carpet.

 

Example 3:

  • Imagine that you’re walking home from a long day at work. There are hunger pangs in your stomach. You’d likely identify them as bad; you’d feel uncomfortable, maybe annoyed and stressed. There would be anxiety as your thoughts would strain over the decision of what you’ll have to cook upon arriving home; they’d pain over the idea of having to make anything at all.
  • Imagine now that you’re walking home from a long day at work, this time, with an order of takeout in your hands. There are hunger pangs in your stomach. You’d feel them, but likely wouldn’t be bothered. You’d be accepting, maybe even relaxed and excited. You’d identify the hunger as good. You’d savor the experience of the pangs and appreciate how your strong appetite will welcome your takeout once you get home.

These scenarios are twin physical experiences. The same hungry stomach walks the same route home after the same long day at work. The set has been replicated. In the second scenario however, there is an expectation of being sated in a sooner future moment than in the first. This changes how the hunger is interpreted and thus what dominates the emotional state.

 

Example 4:

  • Imagine that you’re part of a Weight Watchers group. You started at 160 lbs and today you’re going in for a weigh-in. You get on the scale and it reads “140”. You’d likely be thrilled to have hit this number. All day you’d be in good spirits. You’d feel confident and be inspired to don your favorite attire all week.
  • Imagine now that at the following weigh-in you see that you’re down to 130. Woohoo! A few weeks later you arrive for your third weigh-in. You step on the scale and today it reads “140”. You have gained 10 pounds! You’d likely be devastated. Your spirits would be down the whole rest of the day. Self-conscious, all week you’d dress in large sweaters to hide your body.

In both scenario one and two the same body exits the same clinic at the same weight. The set for both days are identical, but the way it plays out is drastically different. One stars a happy, confident, 140 lb character; and the other, a sad, shy, 140 lb character. The only difference between these two days – a thought about the past. There is a comparison to a previous-self, an assessment of being better or worse than, and a conclusion that has a dramatic impact on the present feeling state.

 

What Can We Learn from These Examples?

All feelings and ways of being are accessible in the present moment. Our mood is not inherent to our situation and we are often not reacting to our surroundings but to the thoughts in our head regarding what has come before and what has yet to be. The takeaways:

  • A. We can be empowered in knowing that our mood doesn’t have to be victim to our life circumstance.
  • B. Proceed with caution and awareness – Careful in how we allow ourselves to be influenced by our thoughts.

 

A. In each set of scenes we were shown how varied one may act given the same external circumstance, but differing past and future stories.

If our stories dictate our emotional and physical state, and our stories can be rewritten, wouldn’t we want to author them ourselves? Are you the creator of your thoughts, or is much of what you spin a parroting of others’ opinions?

If our stories dictate our emotional and physical state, and our stories can be rewritten, ideally, wouldn’t we want to leave a page blank for this moment? Wouldn’t we want to put down the book long enough to spy the field of daisies beyond the brim of our binding to which we’ve felt bound?

 

B.
Much of the time we are unknowingly suffering by the hand of our thoughts. Often, these thoughts are not even a pure processing of the present, rather, they are injections of past and future moments. They offer comparisons and possibilities that adulterate our experience of the now. One way to find freedom from these thoughts is to remind ourselves of their hollow nature.


B. i)
Looking Forward
Keep in mind that there is no future fantasy that is guaranteed to materialize. Our body may be relaxed as we feel security in the anticipation of upcoming relief, however this security is an illusion. That hot tub we’re walking tall towards, when we arrive, we may find that it’s actually broken.

Walking home our body may be tight as we anticipate the upcoming task of having to make dinner. However, this idea about a what a future moment may look like is just something we’ve concocted. Our hungry-self may actually arrive home to find a warm casserole on the counter. Looks like our spouse had prepared extra with us in mind! All that worry for nothing.


B. ii)
Looking Back

Memories are illusions as well. It is not possible to retain a remembrance of EVERY single aspect of an experience, and none of what we do recall is truly objective. Also to note, these memories often arise as opportunities of comparison for the present. However, too many factors vary between then and now. From time and place we have access to different resources and are subject to different influences. Therefore, no fair comparison exists, rendering any effort to do so as futile.


B. iii)
Looking Now
When we stop and analyze our thought patterns around the past and future we can easily see how silly they are. We know practically that they are not real. Anything that isn’t this moment, exists entirely in our head as a mere thought-form. It is an interpretation or an imaginative depiction of an event.

To investigate one level deeper, I’d like to expose the vacancy of our present-time thoughts as well.

  • “That person doesn’t like me…”
  • “I’m so talented!”
  • “I don’t deserve this gift…”
  • “There is something wrong with me…”

Even regarding current events, we have a habit of creating stories and believing them to be true. We end up fabricating much of our reality.

 

 

In Conclusion: What does this all mean? 

  • Reality is not objective.
    There are infinite angles from which a single scenario can be viewed. To come closer to truth we must do the work to mitigate our inborn bias and to grow the diameter of our perspective.

    To do so we may choose to focus on:
    1. The observation and investigation of our thoughts.
    2. Entertaining and honoring the thoughts of others.
    3. Letting go of all thoughts.
    4. A meditative mind will leads us to the only truth in existence – the present moment.
  • There is choice with how we respond to our circumstances.
    Often we think we are reacting to our circumstance, but really, we are reacting to a thought about our circumstance. At any given time we have access a multitude if thoughts and emotions. Example one through four demonstrate the malleable nature of our mind and how we continue to subject ourselves to our memories and fantasies. In B. iii) we look at examples of more present-oriented thoughts and see how though these too can be false, in the absence awareness, they can still illicit corresponding emotions.

If we can remember the true, hollow nature of our thoughts we free ourselves from their rollercoaster and return to ground ourselves in the equanimity of the present moment.

 Like this post? You may also enjoy Future Unknowns or Missing the Past.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *