7 Steps to Overcoming the Overactive Mind

Your life can flourish. Your mind can be an instrument of great good, great peace, and great happiness. Examine what you are doing with your life. Don't squander your precious opportunities.
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Concentric Circles Forming In Still Water
Concentric Circles Forming In Still Water

Our over active mind seems as if it is our normal state-of-being. It isn't. It is learned, re-enforced, and rewarded from early age onward. It's a mental habit. We cannot imagine getting through daily life and work without ceaseless mind talk - without creating lists and crossing things off, planning the future, ruminating over the past, tying down loose ends, and warding off non-existent problems.

However incredible it may seem, our normal state-of-being is actually calm, alert, and grounded in the moment. But, we have forgotten who we are. We have lost touch with the natural essence of our mind. Yet, it is possible for each of us to reclaim a calm mind, or better said to re-access our natural state of calmness. Here are 7-steps that broadly outline the path to a more peaceful, balanced, and effective state-of-well-being

1. Awareness
There is an ancient story about a businessman who visits a teacher for guidance in calming his mind. The teacher offers a cup of tea and then begins to pour it. As the tea flows over the top of the cup the stunned merchant asks the teacher "Why are you still pouring the tea?" The teacher replies: "Your mind is like this overflowing cup. There is no more room for anything else."

The first step in working with the overactive mind is to become aware of it. When your mind is "filled up" it is difficult to notice how abnormal and dysfunctional it is. But, you must know what is wrong before you can fix it. You must be aware of your mind, witness your mind, before you can change it. Even more, in the case of an over active mind, you must not only be aware of it, but disgusted and fed-up before you will be moved to do something about it.

Try the following. Take a deep breath, exhale, and hold your breath at the peak of the following inspiration. Your mind will slow and still. Repeat this several times. In the opening of a suspended breath become aware of your over active mind. Consider how you are squandering the potential of the natural capacities of your mind and life?

2. Intention
The overactive mind is quite seductive. In many ways it is like an adrenaline-like drug. We get "hooked" on it. What would happen if we slowed down? What would become of our work, efficiency, and output? Would our life and work fall apart? Dare we attempt to change this familiar friend? With insight mixed with disgust we can develop a firm intention, grounded in a deep knowing that there is more to life. That firm intention will lead to actions that can progressively reverse the overactive mind.

3. Action

There are two basic steps in overcoming the overactive mind. The first is progressively creating an outer ecology that supports a still, clear, and efficient mind. If we look carefully we will notice many sources of unnecessary noise and stimulation in our day-to-day environment. To name a few: unnecessary "entertainment," meaningless conversations, and a compulsive relationship to our electronic devices. Much as we would create the proper conditions for a plant to grow, inner stability requires us to cultivate the correct outer conditions.

The second step is working on the inside. We must learn how to calm our mind and develop inner stillness. This requires effort. That effort is meditation, learning knowing how to practice inner stillness in both a regular daily sitting practice and in the midst of daily life. There are many ways to meditate, but few that will teach you the correct understanding and practice that leads to a stable and calm mind.

4. Correct Meditation

Learning how to meditate is a skill. Like any other skill it must be learned and cultivated over extended periods of time with precise instructions and proper techniques. Meditation is not just closing your eyes and calming down. That will lead to temporary relaxation, not a sustained change in your mind style. We are not looking to relax our mind, but rather, to transform it.

Meditation is a 3-stage progressive process of gaining an understanding of the workings of the mind and re-establishing its natural warmth and stillness. But there is more. We know how to be frenetic inside and frenetic outside. We know how to become relaxed inside and dull outside - a massage or long vacation are examples. But an authentic and correct practice teaches you how to maintain an inner calm while working effectively in a complex world - calm inside and complex outside. Some may say this is a "miracle."

5. Integrating the Meditative Mind into Daily Life

There is no value in merely getting calm while meditating and reactive and hyperactive as soon as we re-enter daily life. That's not the point here. The point is to remain calm inside while being fully active outside. We accomplish this in two ways. First, by engaging in a regular meditation practice that progressively stabilizes the mind. In this way we strengthen the mind's stability.

Second, we simultaneously weave the meditative mind into our daily practice. Examples here include: mindful listening, mindful speaking, mindful activity, cultivating a loving heart toward all, progressively viewing work as a healing practice. Of course, these efforts require instruction and practice as well. But they extend our effort from the "cushion" to day-to-day life. Our life becomes our practice - calm inside, complex outside.

6. Teachers, Mentors, and Support

You cannot do it by yourself anymore than you can learn any other skill by yourself. Find the best teacher that you can. And, if possible, practice and learn in community.

7. When You Fall Down Get Up

We are all human. When infants learning to walk they invariably fall down. When they fall they do not engage in a mental commentary of shame, doubt, and failure. They just get up and start again. It is the same when practicing. When we fall off of practice, we get up and start once again. So if you are starting, great. If you have started and fallen off, dust your self off and start again.

Your life can flourish. Your mind can be an instrument of great good, great peace, and great happiness. Examine what you are doing with your life. Don't squander your precious opportunities.

www.elliottdacher.org