Building a 'Teflon Mind'
In any one day, thousands of thoughts come into our mind.
Some are positive, and some of these create disturbing and unpleasant emotions. Understanding how to deal with the negative thoughts and emotions which come into our lives is the central theme in mind training and the most direct route to developing resilience.
Our thoughts come and go, moment by moment, day by day. The central idea behind what I call ‘the Teflon Mind’ is the notion that thoughts and the emotions they create do not stick—they come and go.
Many of the eastern traditions tell us that we have little control over the thoughts that come into our mind. One thought enters the mind and then it is replaced by the next thought, and the next thought. The thoughts themselves are not the concern—whether they are positive or negative is largely irrelevant—it’s the attachment to any one of these thoughts which creates disturbance.
Attachment to our thoughts eventually leads to emotional disturbance at some point.
“This must succeed otherwise I am worthless.”
“I must be liked by all those around me.”
“People around me should behave reasonably.”
The musts and should of this world are examples of thoughts and irrational beliefs we become attached to.
We experience this attachment as frustration, tension in the body, tension in the mind, and other bodily sensations and negative emotions. Developing this level of awareness without judgment (and with a decent dose of self-compassion) is the perfect place to start.
So, we become attached. What next?
CULTIVATING AWARENESS – YOUR WORKOUT PLAN
Like any type of training, developing awareness of our thoughts requires practice. The bigger our environment, the greater the practice.
The process begins each morning.
Siting in a yoga type position we take 10 slow controlled breaths, in through our nostrils and out through our mouth. As we are doing this, we simply observe our minds and notice the thoughts which come and go without judging, striving, analysis, or commentary. Just simple observation.
Whenever we find ourselves analysing or judging, we simply bring ourselves back to our breath gently.
As we practice, we do so without judgment and we embrace the notion of ‘non-attachment’. We attempt to let go of any pre-conceived notions as to how we should feel or how we should meditate. We just are, and we just allow ourselves to be.
This practice of sitting allows us to observe our thoughts and our patterns. The more we exercise this, the more we start to realise that these thoughts are not us—they are not the core of our mind and being, they do not define us, they are not who we are. We get to choose who we are and who we want to become.
We do this practice for five minutes each day upon awakening and each night prior to bed, sometimes longer if we feel it is necessary. We also start to integrate this training into our day and whenever we notice we are feeling ‘off-centre’ or notice that the ‘mind-chatter’ is becoming dominant, we open up our lungs and gently bring ourselves back to the present, back to our environment.
Whenever we find ourselves becoming attached, we simply open up our lungs and take 3 deep breaths. As we exhale we allow those thoughts and the attachment they have over us to let go.
The more we practice, the more we start to realise that thoughts come and go and are replaced by new ones. This is the most natural state of being.
WE GET WHAT WE AVOID
We observe our thoughts without attachment, judgement or analysis, they simply come and go of their own accord. Thoughts are just thoughts and there is no need to avoid them, nor is it beneficial to do so.
We avoid fear, we get fear. We avoid being angry, we shovel it down and it eventually comes out in other ways. We avoid feeling nervous, we get anxious!
Consider the example of public speaking. Imagine we’re about to undertake a keynote talk in front a large audience, the more we say to ourselves, “I must not be nervous, I must be competent, I must nail this, I must not stuff this up!”
What’s likely to occur?
In our desire to be thoroughly competent, perfect and all-conquering in our walk, we get what we avoid—a larger dose of fear and anxiety.
SO WHAT’S THE ALTERNATIVE TO AVOIDING THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS?
Most people try and avoid or resist certain unpleasant thoughts and feelings.
In the public speaking example, we have a choice to accept any feelings of fear or anxiety as a totally natural state. In fact, we cultivate an attitude of welcoming these thoughts rather than resisting or pulling away from them. We can cultivate an attitude of acceptance to these feelings as they arise, and allow these unpleasant feelings to come and go of their own accord as opposed to trying to control and resist them.
The concept of ‘The Teflon Mind’ informs us that thoughts are just thoughts, and feelings are just feelings. They come and they go—they do not stick. So as we are about to go on stage, commence a presentation, or have a difficult conversation, we cultivate an attitude of acceptance: feelings of fear are just that. They will come and go of their own accord.
As we feel nerves or any negative emotions coming up, we do not try and avoid them nor repress them.
Like Teflon, thoughts do not stick. We have an attitude of acceptance towards these thoughts, we are aware of them, we feel and experience them, we let them come and we let them go.
THE ROLE OF THE ‘OBSERVER’
As you start to observe your thoughts, you start to notice that you have a choice as to whether or not you become hooked in to any single one. Seeing yourself as the observer, as the director in your own movie gives you a variety of choices to make—no matter the size of the storm going on around you, no matter the size of the mountain you need to climb, no matter what distress surrounds you, you always have a choice as to whether or not you attach yourself to thoughts.
Having an attitude of ‘non-striving’, ‘non-judging’ and ‘non-attachment’ with a healthy amount of compassion for yourself and others around you will only ever lead to resilience.
As you practice this way of being and adopt the role of the observer, you start to become your own coach.
At some point along your journey you no longer need to train. You simply adopt this way of being as your default, and you will notice something quite unusual: you are present, engaged and connected to your environment, your world, and those people around you.