"Your Mind Is A Bully, but It Needs Love Too" by Vanessa Kettering

Our minds are subject to fear, worry, resentment, and endless loops of rumination and negativity. Each person has developed their own mixture of coping mechanisms to live with this incessant chatter, some of these strategies are more supportive of well-being than others. Our minds bully us, tell us stories that aren’t true, replay dramatizations of events that happened decades ago and just generally try to hijack our attention and our emotions. How can we make friends with this mind? Allow it to become our ally rather than our adversary?

When I first started meditating, I thought the purpose was to stop my thoughts, which I soon found out would be an impossible feat of strength. I now know that for me, it is about coming into a healthier relationship with my thoughts, watching them come and go as they please and making a concerted effort to come back to the intention or practice that is guiding me at the moment. As far as I can tell, it may be a long time until I can remain in a state of pristine awareness outside of the push and pull of the mind, but I will keep working toward it because every time I dedicate myself to thoroughly subduing my mind, I experience just a bit more peace and get a glimpse of the way out of suffering. I relax my eyes and unfurrow my brow 1,000 times a day, come back to relaxation and out of worry and anxiety 1,000 more. It has been a long and sometimes painful process of establishing new habits and a process that will continue into the foreseeable future as long as I remain willing to face my mind head on, tell it that it does not have to bully me anymore and give it a chance to rest and relax.

Each of us has a choice in every moment, do we give in to the stress and bustle of modernity or do we choose to take a deep breath, a mindful moment, go to the yoga class we’ve been meaning to get to, spend time in nature, or reach out to that friend we haven’t seen in a while? Mindfulness may not solve all of our problems, but it can make us more aware and from this place of awareness, there is great opportunity. We can choose something different, we can choose not to yell, we can choose not to look for strength in the things that make us weaker, we can choose not to escape our feelings with TV, drugs, alcohol, food or shopping. We may still choose the familiar habit, over and over and over, until one day when we can not make that choice anymore and we choose something different. Something new, novel, unexplored. We do not have to let our minds bully us, but when they do, we can see what is underneath all the chatter and negative self talk and understand that our minds are just voicing their need for approval. If we push them away, they yell louder. If we bring them in close and embrace them as they are, disjointed, scattered, angry, happy, sad we may have a chance to move beyond what they are saying and connect with what is beneath it all. That still, small, pure place that lives in each of us. If we practice doing this with our own minds, we may just have a chance to do better with those we love, those we can’t stand and those who we wish would love us a little more.

Vanessa Kettering, Ph.D is a well-being mentor and co-founder of Way of Well-Being, a non-profit organization that uses a trauma-informed model to teach wellness skills to individuals and organizations. She specializes in working with healthcare providers and others in high stress occupations to offer tailored solutions that are realistic and responsive to their current environment. She is a certified yoga teacher (200 hr.) and certified teacher of Cultivating Emotional Balance Program, a curriculum that combines contemplative education with education in emotional literacy. She is also the co-founder of Hiking Yogi’s L.A., a community group that helps people access nature as a means of accessing their higher selves. She is based in Los Angeles but provides trainings and works with clients globally.

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