“Good things are happening in my life.”  This is a new thought I’m trying to create a groove in my brain with.  There’s this whole concept about how we create our experience with our thoughts.  This may be true, but I’ve always had some anxiety around this because, damn it, sometimes my mind just does what it wants, and when it goes rogue on me, I start to feel like I am actively creating a disaster.  Then I listened to a podcast by Tara Brach, Buddhist psychologist and meditation guru.  In it, she moves listeners through a reflection where she asks us to close our eyes and think thoughts about trouble happening in our lives.  We repeat the various phrases about trouble being present and then tune into what is happening in our bodies.  I noticed my body tensing up.  My jaw clenched.  I felt pressure behind my eyes, and my neck and shoulders started to ache.  Next, she asked us to think about the words, kindness and care and the phrase, “May this experience open my heart”.  After thinking about this for a minute or two, I felt myself involuntarily take a deep breath.  My body as a whole sighed with relief.  It was profound and made a lasting impact.  My thoughts change the way my body feels.

For some of us, our minds spin many scary stories.  We are experiencing life through a pinhole while everything else around us goes dark with these thoughts.  And because I like to add insult to injury, I just throw on top of it, this massive anxiety about the fact that my thoughts were at fault but seemed completely out of my control.  I mean some of these stories around abandonment and self-worth have been with me my entire life.  How could I ever expect them to change?  The hard truth is, it doesn’t happen overnight or by listening to a podcast or reading a blog post.  It takes time, practice and patience.  Imagine that your mind starts out as an empty field that you love running through as a child.  Over time, your steps start creating trails, and by the time you become an adult, those trails are pretty well established.  When you step off that established trail onto the bumpy, grassy, dusty field, it feels harder to walk on than your well worn path.  It’s a little uncomfortable because it doesn’t feel natural and you aren’t exactly sure where it’s going to lead.  Even so, in the name of adventure, you walk on it anyway.  Eventually, your new paths lead you to all sorts of exciting places you didn’t know existed.  This is our mind.  We may have created trails made of  feelings of unworthiness or abandonment.  It took a lot of thinking these same thoughts over and over for them to get there.  They’re familiar and easy to walk on but that doesn’t mean we can’t begin breaking in new trails.  

A few things helped me believe this was possible after years of feeling pretty defeated by it.  The first was tuning into my body and the second was learning to become aware of my thoughts.  I wasn’t even trying to change things at this point.  I was just noticing.  When I started to really feel the difference in my body’s response between thinking about trouble and thinking about kindness and open hearts, my ability to change my own experience couldn’t be denied any longer.  This new knowledge created some freedom and choice.  Now, when I feel anxiety creeping into my body, the first thing I do is notice my thoughts.  

Like most people, I have a few repeating messages that like to take over my brain about being unlovable, easy to leave, or that I am unsafe.  These are the well worn trails that are familiar to walk on.  When the thoughts come up, I notice them and feel them in my body.  I feel tense, shallow breathing, tightness in my chest, pressure behind my eyes, and an ache in my shoulders and neck.  Before I can change my thoughts, I have to figure out a way to relax my body so first things first: I take 3 deep belly breaths or maybe 10 or 12 if I’m really triggered.  Ahhhh…some relief.  Then I take in what’s around me.  The sound of the fan, my daughter watching TV on the couch, my snoring dog, and the way the sun is coming through the window.  All of these things bring me to the present moment, and once I’m in the present moment and my body is more relaxed, some space is created for me to think differently.  I can step off that worn path that says something is wrong with me, and walk over to a place where the grass on the new path is just starting to lay flat.  This is the beginning of the “I am enough” trailhead.  I breathe that in.  I am enough.  The pinhole I had been looking through begins to expand.  I am enough.  Stepping out of this darkness, I feel the sun on my face.  One step at a time, my trail is leading me to a more expansive place. 

Trails are worn slowly over time and so it is with the thoughts in our mind, but with every new step we find ourselves closer to peace.