THE BLOG

When the Mind Plays Truant

28/04/2014 12:23 BST | Updated 27/06/2014 10:59 BST

Still upset by what others said or did to you some time ago? Are you fuming? Haunted?

But hold on. Are they wholly to blame for our unhappiness - when they are not here and the incident is not happening right now?

When the mind plays truant, it wanders to where it shouldn't - to the past, the future. It doesn't stay in the here and now. It goes to other places, things, people, to the tasks we haven't yet completed, to the unresolved issues, to anticipation of the next event in our lives. With this lack of awareness of what the mind is doing, we are lost - getting deeper into the jungle of thoughts or reverie without realising it.

We are no longer in the present moment. We can't even remember whether we have put sugar in our tea or left our keys in the front door. We become confused. We cannot take in what we have learnt, let alone remember; we are not really there with the people we are talking to; our mind has rushed off to the office while our body is still at home, having breakfast. The mind becomes restless.

The amygdala, our emotional brain, interprets the information from sense stimuli as well as our thoughts. If they are deemed to be a threat, the body will be put on stress alert. Stress hormones are released; the heart is pounding faster, the lungs are gasping for air, muscles are tensed up. Our eyes become like radar, locating things that agitate us, difficult people we don't want to see; our ears sharpen, picking out annoying noises from next door that seem to bother no one else, except us.

The mind digs further for related past events and piles them up to maximise the impact. Bang! The past emotional state is recreated and re-experienced! This could be a yearning for the long-gone-days, or fear and pain from the past. Anger may fire up and sadness may deepen. Emotions are sent up or down or round and round in circles. The more we let this happen; the more our emotional memory is enhanced and awaiting to be triggered.

So watch out! Next time your mind feels restless, check what it is doing or dwelling on. Is it out there wandering about, looking for something? Bring it back to the present moment, to the sensation of bodily movements, the activity in front of you or to the in-out breaths. If the mind still lingers out there, notice whether its truancy sparks off any mind-chattering, thoughts, memory, images, etc that alter your moods.

Identify the sense stimulus that the mind is clinging to. Is it hearing, seeing, smelling, thinking, or feeling? Does it give rise to feelings of like or dislike? Are you fuelling it with added thoughts? Look at its pattern from beginning to end - how it starts, continues and naturally ceases.

Be mindful of what's going on. When you analyse it like this, you shift the focus from the amygdala - in charge of pressing the stress alarm, to the frontal brain - responsible for reasoning and analytical function. With regular practice, your reasoning and increased understanding will replace these emotions and thus reduce stress.

There is no need to suppress your emotions or brush away negative thoughts because in doing so you will be giving them significance, allowing them to remain in your memory. But don't identify with them either! Instead acknowledge them and be mindful of them. Keep watching and you will notice the patterns of your thoughts that they are merely thoughts; they come and go on their own accord and nothing more. Once the mind begins to see the repeated same-ish patterns of thoughts and emotions- with the beginning, middle and end, the mind will get bored of playing truant. There's no excitement in darting around, following something that is too predictable! Thoughts and emotions will thus lose their powers over you.

Happiness can be had right here and right now, anytime, anywhere - when the mind stays fully focused and becomes one with the body, when it no longer travels into the past or future but remains at peace, at home and in the present moment!

You will find joy in everything you do, even in the simplest little things like peeling a potato, breathing in and out or reading this!