The founder of the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction program is Jon Kabat-Zinn. In April of 2015, he sat down and talked with Oprah Winfrey about his book “Mindfulness for Beginners”. This talk was video taped and shown on Oprah’ s series called Super Soul Sunday.
In one of the clips titled “How Thinking Big Can Make You Happier”, Kabat Zinn argues that the thinking mind tells us stories about ourselves that are neither complete nor big enough. He suggests that the thoughts end up creating a narrow view of self that potentially is self-limiting.
The video inspired me to write this blog as a way to further understand how the thinking mind can influence our sense of self. I suggest 3 ways.
The first is to see the challenge as freedom with your thinking rather than freedom from your thinking. This is a very important distinction. Freedom from your thinking implies that there is a way to get rid of our thoughts. This is not possible as it is in the mind’s nature to generate thoughts. The freedom is to found in how you are relating to your thoughts. Rather than believing and identifying with every thought as “me and mine”, consider that we can get to know our thinking and subsequently to become more discerning about the reliability and helpfulness of some of our thoughts. In the end, some thoughts may not be true or reliable.
The second way to find some freedom from your thinking mind is to understand some of the background factors that may be influencing your thoughts. For example, many cognitive psychologists have observed that a low mood can trigger a torrent of problem solving thinking in response to our desire to get rid of the low mood. In many cases, it turns out that the cascade of thinking tends to deepen the low mood. As a result, the psychologists suggest that it is often wiser to develop more tolerance for normal mood fluctuations and to switch our attention away from thinking.
A third way to find some freedom with your thoughts is to understand the impact of thinking on the brain, according to the science. Science has discovered a pattern of activity in our brains called the default network. It is a circuit of neuronal firing that activates when we are either daydreaming or lost in thought. This default network is very powerful as it is associated with the mind “telling stories” about our lives and us. It is a form of automatic thinking about the self. This is referred to as “self-referential thinking” and depending upon the story we tell; it may have a huge impact on our sense of ourselves. This has major implications for individuals who experience harsh and negative judgments about themselves. The research suggests that the activity of the default network can be curtailed through directed and focused attention that can be developed through mindful meditation.