One thing we all do when we’re in emotional pain – we think. But it’s not just any old thinking; it’s real hard-core thinking. And it’s not just the real hard-core thinking but we do it at frightening speed. It’s called ‘mind racing’ and it’s what happens when we let our mind run free.
Mind racing is constantly playing back different scenarios with different outcomes of what could have been or might be. It’s a major energy drain but we do it without realizing it. It keeps us from being in the present moment, acting as a shield from our deeper self.
If we were driving during a bout of mind racing we could drive a hundred miles without necessarily remembering how we got there. That’s what it does: takes you out of reality and into an unreal world.
The medics call it rumination.
That medical profession actually has a word for this type of thinking. It’s called rumination. Rumination is when someone goes over and over and over negative thoughts. It’s actually a compulsive focused attention on our distress, its possible causes and consequences. When we are in the middle of full-blown mind racing, we only see problems.
Once we get into this very negative form of thinking it interferes with our ability to see any light at the end of the tunnel. Research shows that our tendency to try and think our way out of our problems is harmful. Over-thinking is also linked to negative behaviour like self-harming, binge eating and drinking, and general anxiety.
We try to think our way out of our situation but we’re actually driving ourselves further into its clutches. Mind racing can be experienced as a background ‘white noise’ and can take over a person’s ability to be aware of what going on. Yet, it feels like horses galloping around the head. It also seems to be very repetitive and overwhelming, which results in losing track of time.
Generally, mind racing is when the mind brings up random thoughts and memories and switches between them very quickly; we have no control over it. Usually the thoughts are focused on one or two things but at the same time they pop out randomly.
If we suffer from mind racing we can’t easily slow down these thought patterns and it can begin to affect our health. It can disrupt sleep patterns which pushes up stress levels. It also keeps us in a crisis by going over and over imagined threats. Somehow, and this is the crazy part, we think it’s doing us good. We imagine the worst possible scenario so that if we ever have to face it for real, we’ll be ready!
Here’s a quick quiz to see if you suffer from mind racing:
1. Do you find yourself automatically thinking about problems when you’re doing things that allow your mind to be on idle, like cleaning, driving or trying to fall asleep?
2. Do you find meditation tricky because thoughts bombard you?
3. Would others suggest that you love drama and that if you don’t have one you either create one or get in the middle of someone else’s?
4. Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep because you’re thinking so much?
5. Are you a glass half-empty kind of person thinking that things won’t work out rather than that things will work out?
6. When you think about things in your life that upset you, do you feel overwhelmed, stressed and depressed, and then focus on those feelings too?
7. When you’re dealing with a conflict with another person, do you find yourself working into a fury but feel like you can’t do anything about it and then feel worse?
8. If you talk with your friends about a situation that makes you angry, upset or stressed, do you prefer to have your friends see it your from your side and then get upset if they don’t?
If you’ve answered yes to four or more of these questions then you may well suffer from mind racing.
Negative default position
There is an added disadvantage for anyone who has previously suffered from a depression. Depression makes a connection in the brain between mind racing and a sad mood. It’s like a line drawn in the sand and any normal sadness can take us back behind that line in the sand – our default position – without us even trying. Studies have shown this to be the case and it helps us to understand why, when we feel sad, we give up on ourselves so easily.
For some of us no matter how well we are doing when we trip up we don’t seem to go just one step back; we seem to slide all the way down the bottom – like sliding down the snake of the snakes and ladders board back to the starting point. Sometimes it seems we just can’t get ourselves out of the depression no matter what we do. This can add to our feeling of hopelessness and helplessness. So what happens?
Mind racing is a psychic disease (or dis-ease.) It’s almost an epidemic because everyone does it and it seems unstoppable. But it works in the same way for everyone. This is mind racing’s method of operation.
The mind racing loop
As the mind races away in the brain, it goes over and over something: we’re no good, or nothing good will ever happen to us, or we’re worthless and useless. What happens is that thought stimulates emotions like fear, anxiety, frustration, anger and panic. Those emotions then get played out and not in a good way.
Emotions are essentially the body’s way of reacting to the mind. For example, if we tell ourselves that we’re in trouble, our bodies will go into the ‘fight or flight’ mode which sets up fear and anxiety. If we tell ourselves that we’re totally useless, this feels punishing and we feel the negative energy in our chest or abdomen.
Of course we don’t intend to do this but we do it unconsciously. The more unconscious this process, the more it becomes apparent in the body and if this happens day in, day out, it’s no wonder we feel beaten!
On its own, mind racing could cause us to get depressed. If we did nothing else except learn how to master the mind, this could be the only thing we need to help us to beat depression fast. Sometimes the answers to the most complex problems are actually simple, and this is one of them.
Generally speaking anyone who suffers from depression suffers from mind racing. This type of mind is like a thousand dominos all set up; the mind pushes the first domino and the whole row falls down. Except they keep falling and never stop. Each thought creates an emotion until we’re a series of unconscious reactions keeping us in this loop of madness. And we wonder why we are so depressed!
As the mind races away in the brain, it goes over and over something: we’re no good, or nothing good will ever happen to us, or we’re worthless and useless. What happens is that thought stimulates emotions like fear, anxiety, frustration, anger and panic.
Those emotions then get played out and not in a good way. Emotions are essentially the body’s way of reacting to the mind. For example, if we tell ourselves that we’re in trouble, our bodies will go into the ‘fight or flight’ mode which sets up fear and anxiety. If we tell ourselves that we’re totally useless, this feels punishing and we feel the negative energy in our chest or abdomen.
Of course we don’t intend to do this but we do it unconsciously. The more unconscious this process, the more it becomes apparent in the body and if this happens day in day out, it’s no wonder we feel beaten! However, the bottom line is that: It was only a thought!
How to stop thinking.
Asking ourselves how to stop thinking may seem like an extraordinary request. However we are on an extraordinary journey.
Forget convention, put aside scepticism and just try this step which, if taken seriously, can reframe the rest of your life. The art of no thought has been pursued for thousands of years by masters searching for enlightenment.
We don’t concern ourselves too much with the rationale of this step. All we need to know is that it works.
Read (or record and listen to) this whenever you want some peace from your frantic mind:
We stop thinking by stopping thinking. At the moment that sounds easy but it is the hardest thing in the world until we simply stop thinking about it. How do we do that? Well the first thing to do is to recognize how much we are thinking. If we think about our minds and our thoughts we can see the brain spinning like
a roundabout. It moves so quickly we can’t see each thought because it spins like a whirling dervish. Just take a few moments to watch the thoughts spinning around in your brain.
As you spend some time watching this roundabout of thoughts whizzing around in your brain you are
beginning to step back from mind racing . . . . Get a bit of distance between you and it. Imagine you’re stepping off the roundabout and watching it . . . . As you do this you disconnect your mind from your emotion. The negative messages stop by simply watching the mind at work ‘up there’ on the roundabout. Don’t try to understand the logic behind this because you start thinking again. Simply listen to these words slowly and carefully and this will help you get some distance from the mind. It’s important not to try to stop thinking because that is the judgement which comes from thinking. Learning not to think isn’t something you need to work hard at it’s more like a light being switched on. There’s nothing more to it than that. If you are thinking about it – just don’t think. There is nothing to think about.
Whilst you’re reading this passage you may be thinking this is nonsense but that’s the thinker at work. Every time you hear the thinker at work, step back and watch the roundabout spinning . . . . up there. Thinking and practising not thinking don’t go together because you can’t do both at the same time. While you’re reading (or listening to) these words slowly and clearly, stop for a split-second in between each sentence and find the space before you read the next sentence. As you find a space between each sentence bring your awareness into that space. This awareness is your still presence . . . . If a thought arises . . . . just watch it . . . . don’t be drawn into it. When you catch yourself thinking you are free of it. Catching yourself thinking puts some space in between you and your thoughts. If you couldn’t catch yourself thinking you couldn’t see that you’ve been thinking. If you feel frustrated at these words it’s because your mind has told you you’ve failed. But you are not your mind and you haven’t failed, you have just thought you’ve failed. If you’re suffering it’s because you believe everything your mind thinks. But you are not your mind, you are the space under the thoughts of your mind. Can you feel the space in between each sentence? It’s possible to think you’ve failed yet also feel the space between you and your mind. If you become very still you will find that space is like a sacred emptiness in the very centre of you. But don’t think about it because the mind cannot process it. It’s a different sense like a sixth sense, an awareness or even an awakening. Allow this moment to be as it is . . . . this will bring you back into the still place.
One of the questions we ask ourselves is ‘What’s wrong with me?’ But that’s our mind asking that question, it’s not us. When we listen to our racing minds we are re-engaged in the dis-ease of our incessant thoughts. So, when we stop thinking we stop the questions. There is no need to answer these questions because there’s no answer and there’s no question. Simply watch the thoughts spinning around and step away from them, coming into the sacred space that’s left. You may think this is total nonsense but then you’re back in your thoughts. But if you continue this practice of no thinking you will reverse the mind racing loop and it will slow down. Become aware of your breathing instead of your thoughts. Become aware of the place that has no thoughts. If you beat yourself up because you can’t not think, that’s the thinker’s way of hooking you back in . . . . by stirring up the emotions and getting you back on the thinking loop. So the answer is to not think. In between each sentence find a space of no thought. As you read and re-read these words you will be able to stretch that split-second of no thought to a whole second and then two and then three. Once you hit three seconds you will touch the bliss that lies waiting for you underneath the thoughts. This is your true happiness, your true calling . . . . you. You are what’s left when the thoughts stop . . . . the awareness away from thoughts is who you are . . . not trying to achieve anything . . . . just accepting what’s there . . . . allowing it to be as it is. That is all there is to say about how to stop thinking. And there is nothing else to think about