“Stand guard at the portal of your mind.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
As I was working with a client this week and he discussed the moment when he ran into a friend that he used to use heroin with and when the friend offered him some he took it and used. I asked him what thoughts ran through his mind when he decided to relapse into heroin use. He noted that he didn’t really think any thoughts and just acted on the impulse since it was right there. As I slowed him down and took him back to the moment he was able to identify some thoughts he had, but they were all about how much he wanted to use and how hard it was to stay clean. When I asked him if he would have been able to think something different in that moment, he replied that he had never thought about having control over his thoughts and noted that he just listens to his thoughts. I then discussed how I envision us all as having a cast of characters within us and each of those characters project different thoughts. Some of the characters disagree with each other which creates our internal dialogue and conflict. I then told him that we are not any of the characters or their thoughts, we are the observer of them. Much like the director chooses which characters are center stage and when it is time for them to exit, we can choose which thoughts we want to listen to and which ones we want to pass on. This was new territory for him. Realizing we have the power to choose our thoughts and are not just at the mercy of every random thought that crosses our mind was profound. I gave him a homework assignment which was to become more aware of his thoughts. First, I asked him to take in some deep breaths and feel the air moving through his nostrils and down into his lungs. Immediately when we focus on our body and something as simple as our breath, all of our thoughts stop. We are choosing to focus our attention inside the body and we are present in this moment. I then asked him to visual himself as a tiger in a dark room, just watching for the next thought to arrive. When it enters the room, pounce on the thought, become aware of stopping it and then wait for the next one to arrive. I asked him to just do this for a few seconds several times a day. I noted that it is hard to keep focused on the tiger image, because sometimes the thoughts will overpower it and we will go with the thoughts instead of holding on to the tiger, but with practice it will become easier to hold the image for longer periods of time. Although the idea of choosing our thoughts sounds so simple it is anything but easy. This is one of the most difficult things to master in our lives, but it is where our power is. Harness the power of the tiger and become the master of your thoughts.
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