It’s common for Trauma Survivors to struggle with intrusive thoughts, compulsions, addictions, obsessions, or maladaptive (once useful, now unnecessary) coping mechanisms. I find it comforting to remember that we can respect the purposes behind these things, and, without judgment, we can be compassionate with ourselves. It can be really healthy to explore and be curious about these types of thoughts and actions, just watching them and recognizing them, without yielding to them. Being aware is always step one in making any positive changes. For example, staying with a strong emotion or sensation is hard for the mind. It wants to distract you in order to protect you. There’s always room to observe why your thought or action is gnawing at your brain and see what it is trying to help you cope with. Just watching its pattern and the way it tries to manipulate you into complying can be useful data for you to break negative cycles and addictive behaviors with awareness.
A good practice is right here in this meditation space. Consider this a bootcamp for learning to not allow your mind to control you. Practicing mindfulness a few minutes each day is training your mind to pause to be present and teaching your thoughts that they are not in charge of you. You can sense things, feel things, think things, and get distracted by things, but, without yielding to their temptations, you can be aware that you moved away from your anchor and bring it right back. Just observe, recognize, and without judgment, re-focus. Let’s try it.
Make sure you are in a space where no external distractions will bother you. Feel your seat grounding you below. Allow your eyes to close or cast a soft gaze downward if that feels safer. Take a cleansing breath. Now find a part of your breath that is most obvious to you — the inhale sensation in the nostrils, the rise of your chest, the pressure expanding in your belly, or the pause in the middle of the inhale and exhale. Just stay steady on that as long as you can. Allow your mind to be here. You aren’t shutting it off; you are just choosing a focus and anchoring down into it. Thoughts will still arise; emotions may come looking for you. Let that be okay. Don’t yield to them; just notice they are there and then jump right back into focusing on the breath.
If you got lost in thought or sensation, no judgment. That’s part of the practice. In fact, that is the practice. Now that you know, focus back on your anchor breath, and let your mind settle into it as well.
If you are noticing intrusive thoughts or difficult emotions or obsessive-compulsive ideation, that’s okay. That’s what you are sitting here for, to notice and still not give in. Just blow it all away with your exhale and sink your mind back into the focus of your breath. Try this for one more moment.
How do you feel after not letting your mind control you? How do you feel not yielding to every whim of your body wanting to move or get up? Was it okay to stay presently focused on the breath instead of following a thought that would have turned into a movie? Do you notice any difference in the clarity of your mind right now?
The more you practice mindfulness, the more you are able to learn how to stay steady in your thoughts and not allow addictions or tricky emotions get the best of you. One moment at a time, one thought at a time. One practice session at a time. You did amazingly well!
When you are ready, open your eyes and root back into your body. Take this focused, unyielding, powerful self on back into your day. Stay well and strong and in charge.