The Runaway Mind

The mind can be a powerful and splendid ally. It can be a motivator, a planner and a supreme puzzle solver. But all too often, it’s not your friend. I was walking down Melrose Avenue one afternoon (when we could do such things) and I stopped in front of an ice cream shop. I looked in the window and watched a server making a brownie sundae with hot fudge and fresh whipped cream.

“Go ahead,” my inner voice encouraged. “Have a sundae. It’ll be delicious.

“It’s bad for you . . ” another voice said.

“Life is hard,” the first one interrupted,” and you really deserve a treat. What harm can one sundae do? You only live once. You can make up for it tomorrow.”

Remember those cartoons with an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, arguing with each other? Guess who won? I walked inside and ordered the sundae, dripping with hot fudge, topped with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles. It tasted great but when I was halfway through, the voice began singing a different tune. “You shouldn’t have eaten that. It’s unhealthy and it’s fattening. You better throw the rest of it away. You made a big mistake. Now you’re screwed.”

During this lengthy quarantine, as I spend hour upon hour alone, my mind has been hard to manage, and that’s putting it lightly. My runaway thoughts are flitting around like an orangutan in the jungle, jumping from one branch to the next, never resting or lighting anywhere. It’s beyond annoying. I successfully hit the mute button for a little while, I write, I craft something, I do a jigsaw puzzle, I plan my next meal, I do the laundry, but the minute I lift up my head from what I’m doing, my mind takes off again. “What’s going to happen?” it asks me. “You could be in danger and there’s nothing you can do about it..

I really don’t want to keep suffering so I’m trying to be mindful of my thoughts, see them for what they are and try to reverse them. Here are the counter ideas that I tell myself to manage my unmanageable mind. I start with the most important one:

• There is no reason to feel shame about being frightened and feeling out of control. However I’m handling it, I’m doing my best.

• I don’t have to keep my pain a secret. Other people are feeling the same thing and would probably welcome a way to talk about it.

• I remind myself that my obsessive thoughts are telling me lies. Believing the rants is a bad habit that needs to be broken.

• I speak lovingly to myself in order to soothe the scared child inside.

• I do enough physical exercise to wake up my body and tame my mind.

I’m doing my best to stop fantasizing about the future and lamenting the past. My cat is my teacher as she roams around for a while, finds a spot of sun or a place where she can keep an eye on me, and then she drops into total relaxation in every part of her body.

All of my cats, past (Little Lulu), and present, (Star), have shown me that the only effective antidote to an uncontrollable mind is to stay in the moment where there is no conflict. I keep bringing myself back and remembering that however cunning, loud, persistent, and punishing my mind gets, it isn’t as powerful as I am. When I realize that I am the master of my mind, that I get to decide where it goes and how long it stays there, I can take each day, hour and moment as it comes without a load of judgments and drama attached to my thoughts. With practice, when I make a commitment to treat myself better and ignore the nattering voice in my head, my runaway mind becomes a distant whisper that eventually blends into the background. Then it sounds like a purr.

How are you managing your mind?

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