Three Ways to Crush Mind Wandering Demons

Recently a friend visited who had traveled on an airplane to Colorado. “It was alarming. Everyone on the plane wore a face mask.”* For the next two hours dinner conversation focused on the possible impact of the Coronavirus. You name it; we imagined it, every scary scenario. Our minds wandered the universe! Thoughts hijacked rational thinking while stress manifested in my body, with a sick gut feeling. Even my heart beat quicker. We became the fear.
The mind is a vicious circle. It creates problems for itself and then tries to resolve them,” said Hindu spiritual leader, Swami Prajnanpad (1891-1974). Yes, this is just what our minds do! According to Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar, Matt Killingsworth, we spend forty-seven percent of our time mind-wandering. Further, even when we’re suppose to be paying attention we struggle to keep our thoughts present: seventy percent of leaders report not paying attention during a meeting**. Minds go on autopilot!
What does autopilot look like?  The Search Inside Yourself program suggests the following traits:
  • Attention is in the past or future
  • Distracted
  • Less Aware
  • React based on default aka habit patterns and assumptions.
With so much uncertainty in our country and world right now, we need to manage our attention. How? By becoming aware, noticing our thoughts and emotions. Here are three ways to crush the mind-wandering demons.
1. Three Breaths Practice

When feeling bombarded, with our mind moving at warp speed, try a Three Breaths practice.  In three breaths, available anytime, we can refresh, reframe, and make a choice about our mind’s focus:

  • First Breath: Bring complete, yet gentle attention to the process of breathing, at whatever pace is comfortable for you
  • Second Breath: Let the body relax with the intake and out breath 
  • Third Breath: Ask, what’s most important now aka what do I want to focus my attention on right now?

2. Single Focus

If demands in work and life are too much, switch to one task at a time. Create a list of your ten “To Do’s” and then choose one for focusing your attention. Fully bring your mind to the one activity until complete.

3. Focused Attention Sitting Practice

Consider trying out a Focused Attention practice on your favorite meditation app. Even a few minutes of sitting quietly and resting in awareness of your breath will help you cultivate self-awareness. If your mind starts to wander, gently and kindly bring attention back to your breath (or another sensation, like listening).  We can’t stop our minds from thinking and that’s ok. Sitting meditation is about noticing, not stillness.  Listen HERE to my five minute practice.

Whatever the challenge, wherever the overwhelm, we’ll get through to the other side.  How? Focusing and or re-focusing our attention again and again and again with gentle kindness and compassion will help us.
*(BTW, the WHO says you don’t need to wear a mask unless you’re experiencing illness or taking care of someone with illness.  Click Here for more information.)