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Debug your mind

I was pondering about the why of this blog. What do I want to bring about? What is it exactly that makes me so enthusiastic about mindfulness and that I want to share? For me, mindfulness is, among other things, about debugging the mind. The mind is like a computer, that runs many programs. Many of those programs are running in the background. The user of the computer (me!) is not aware of them. But they do influence the everyday experience.

From time to time you can become aware of them. Especially when the influence of those programs becomes really annoying. Like when negative thoughts and emotions arise. At such a moment we can either choose to not do anything. Then our mind will get cluttered more and more with those nasty bugs and we will experience more and more negative thoughts and emotions over time. Or we can do like we do as developers: debug.

These buggy programs are our beliefs about the world. About ourselves and others. About the way things work. We usually don’t question those beliefs and our mind finds belief confirming evidence in the world around us. Maybe you have the same experience as I, that when you for instance buy a new car, and then suddenly you see a lot of cars of the same type. Or, when you are expecting a baby, you suddenly see many pregnant women.

The same is true for other, less obvious things. When you expect that people are unkind to you, you will notice all those people that are indeed unkind. And you will overlook the people that are kind to you. When you expect to be robbed, you will notice all the news items and stories on Facebook of people being robbed, and you overlook the fact, that there are also a lot of people, most people in fact, that aren’t being robbed. When you expect negative things, you will live in fear. But when you expect positive things, you can live in joy.

Of course, even when you expect positive things, negative experiences can happen to you. But then again, what do you expect? Do you expect that you will be strong and wise enough to deal with it well, or do you expect to be blown away? Fear can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, back to the debugging. There are several ways to debug. For serious bugs, those that are traumatic, I advise you to see a therapist. But when you feel that it is within your power to undergo the negative thoughts and emotions and be with them, to just observe them and learn from them, then mindfulness would be a good approach.

How does that work? First, there already must be some mindfulness available to be able to stop running away from negative thoughts and emotions. And when you have actually decided to face them, just allow them to be. And observe.

  • How is this stress represented in your body? Do you feel something in your chest? In your belly? In your throat?
  • If it would have a shape, what would that be?
  • If it would have a color, what color would it have?
  • If it could talk to you, what would it say?
  • How would an emotion be expressed? Would you want to scream? Would you want to cry?
  • Is it true what the negative thoughts are telling you? Could you find arguments for it not to be true?
  • Could you be kind to it? Imagine it being a wounded animal. Could you breathe love and comfort to it?
  • Still imagining that it is a wounded animal that is fearful and aggressive, could you be patient and loving until it is ready to surrender? You can’t force the animal to trust you. You will have to be patient and wait.

And the one thing that helps me personally a lot when facing negative emotions:

  • Do you trust, that when this is over, you will have gained new insights? You don’t have to do anything other than allowing the negative emotions to be with you for a while. These new insights are a true bonus. And trusting that and looking forward to them, helps me a lot to be patient during difficult moments.

This debugging has proven to be of immense value to me. Instead of creating more and more emotional debt, my mind is starting to become more free and clear. And my world is reflecting that back to me. Because as you know, when you expect good things, you will notice a lot of them.

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