Mental Discipline Is Foundational for Mental Health
According to the data from my Garmin watch, I awoke at 3:28 am last night. I can also see that I had the night’s first short burst of REM (dreaming) sleep only a few minutes earlier, starting at 3:15 am. I remember waking up with a vague sense of dread, a lingering hopelessness reverberating from what was probably a disturbing dream, perhaps a nightmare.
That sense of discomfort in the body could easily have been parlayed by a wandering mind into worry or dread about various relatively innocuous situations in my waking life. While I have been dealing with several challenging circumstances, last night I was not being chased by a tiger, nor was my village being burned to the ground by marauding vikings.
Since I’ve practiced extensive amounts of Vipassana (“clear seeing”) meditation, I am aware that suffering is caused by the unconscious mind reacting to subtle, or not-so-subtle, sensations in the body, pushing away unpleasant sensations and grasping at pleasant ones. Last night, I could sense that there was a revved-up version of this kind of process happening below my conscious awareness, driving a troubling emotional state and prompting my conscious mind to look for external circumstances upon which to map it.
So, as I often now automatically do, I started to pass my awareness throughout my body, scanning systematically from my toes to my head and back again. When I found any sensations that my unconscious mind had been wrestling with, my conscious awareness stepped in and offered the alternative approach of equanimity: of witnessing without needing anything to be different.
After a few minutes, I entered a state of contentment as my mind curiously traversed the realm of my unconscious mind, turning over the rocks of old mental habits. I usually find this process soothing, as I finally increase awareness of, and look directly at, what has been troubling me. The buck stops with the sensations, and actually consciously looking at them, once that skill has been developed, becomes a productive and relaxing way of spending time.
We are what we think. All that we are arises…