Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hahn retells a fable about a man riding a runaway horse through the city. As the horse and rider race through the streets, a bystander shouts to the rider, “Where are you going?” The rider responds, “I don’t know. Ask the horse.”
Our minds are often like a runaway horse. Like the rider in the fable, we’re not sure where our thoughts are taking us. It can sometimes feel like we’re overpowered by the barrage of unbridled thoughts galloping through our minds.
There’s several ways we can take the reins to quiet our mind chatter. And the more we practice these time-proven techniques, the more our runaway thoughts become tamed.
The key to bringing our thoughts to a halt is to first develop awareness of when the incessant chatter racing through our heads is becoming rampant and bothersome. With awareness, we can then practice gentle discipline to quiet the mind, and give our thinking a rest.
One of the simplest ways to quiet the mind is to connect with our breathing. Once we notice our mind galloping, we can stop, take several deep, slow breaths, and be present to our breathing. Since the mind can only think one thought at a time, shifting our attention to our breath brings focus to our body. As we breathe in, we notice air cascading through our noses and filling our lungs. As we release the breath slowly through our mouths, we allow our body to slow down, relax, and flow with the natural rhythm breathing creates:
When our minds wander, which they will do, we can gently bring our attention back to our breathing and allow ourselves to reconnect with the flow of air that nourishes and sustains us.
Another practice that’s helpful in quieting the mind is finding a gentle mantra to center and ground ourselves. Simple words or phrases like peace, I’m safe, love, or God is with me can take our minds off anxious thoughts and anchor them with a positive affirmation.
As we repeat a meaningful mantra, we recreate the effect of that mantra within ourselves. We teach the body to experience the word we speak.
For example: every time we say peace in a soft, soothing tone, we invite ourselves to feel calm. The more we repeat peace to ourselves in the same quiet way, the easier it is to recapture the serenity. Our body then remembers that calm feeling and integrates it into our being.
The mind is a powerful gift the Creator’s given us. Yet, in our Western culture, we’ve over-identified with our intellect, leading us to believe we are what we think.
Thoughts are just mental energy making their way through our heads. We’re much more than our thinking. We are mind, body, and spirit. With intentional practice, we can bridle our thoughts so we can center ourselves in the Creator’s peace that surpasses all understanding.
—brian j plachta
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