We work hard at getting enough exercise, training and toning our bodies, developing muscle. It doesn’t occur to us that our emotional lives will be enhanced if we work on training our minds as well, developing emotional muscle. We do many reps of sequences of exercises, yet we have much less commitment to the reps required in mind exercise to develop our emotional muscle.
One of my teachers, Pema Chodron, an American Buddhist nun, has written numerous books and recorded talks on topics I’ve found to be very compelling. One of my favorites is Don’t Bite the Hook. The premise of this CD is understanding that the mind is a thought-producing machine. That’s really all it does! It manufactures thought after thought after thought. Where we get into trouble is when we believe all of these thoughts that our minds produce. Truth is, many of those thoughts are not real. They’re based on our worries and axieties and predictions about potential worst-case scenarios, and they may even be based on past experience. But, they are not based in current reality or Truth. Pema encourages us with her gentle, unconditional support to avoid “biting the hook.” When we bite the hook, we swallow these thoughts hook, line and sinker! And, we react AS IF it were all true.
Pema uses a Tibetan word called shenpa that means “the charge behind.” Shenpa arises when we stop seeing other people as people and begin to see them as an enemy or as stupid. When we are heavily invested in our likes and dislikes, right and wrong, smart and stupid, hot and cold, and on and on, we are vulnerable to getting hooked. Shenpa is the energy behind getting hooked.
My commute to work is one of the most irritating commutes I make in my car. The actual distance is not so remote, but the traffic is ridiculous causing the car time to be quite lenghty…and frustrating. As I and thousands of other commuters are inching along to our final destinations, I can be insanely provoked by the one person who believes their time is somehow much more important than the rest of us and who believes that traffic laws don’t apply to them. When I see this person moving at a substantial clip up the shoulder, I’m sure it is my duty to pull into the shoulder to block their progress. I’m a vigilante righting wrongs that the official law enforcement officers are not available to make right by writing that person a ticket. Clearly, I have bitten the anger hook. I get swept away and become a walking, irritable, pissed off woman. If I had done the work to stop the addictive urge to bite the hook, this event would have had little impact on my peace of mind.
What I love about Pema and some other current writers is that their messages are based in ancient teachings whether they are Christian, Buddhist, Sufi, Hindu, or Muslim. There are truths that span all of the major religions and ideologies that find their way into psychological thought and clinical treatment. Love this!
In order to avoid biting the hook, we take the position of the Observing Ego, or the Witness, or Observer, or the Self. Whatever you call it, it is that observing part of yourself that can be an educated consumer of thought. This sophisticated part of ourselves observes thought, analyses the veracity of the thought and assesses what to do next with it. Does one act on it or let it pass by like a cloud in the sky.
This is all such delicious stuff because CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and many other forms of therapy are derived from these ancient teachings.
I invite you to begin to have compassion for your untamed mind and to begin to train it with care, as you would lovingly train an untamed puppy…not with harshness, but with consistency and love. Namaste.