By Lisa Meuser. I was lying in bed the other morning- thinking thinking thinking.
Thinking about a guy. Thinking about my daughter. Thinking about my calendar and my clients and my mom and my to-do list and and and and… Before I knew it I was thinking about thinking, and I was well on my way to being caught up in “it.”
You know “it,” don’t you? I think of “it” as a hamster wheel that moves around and around, containing within it “the shit stack” of life stuff that needs to be solved, figured out, and evaluated. Oh, this hamster wheel! It has the potential to pull one in when they least expect it.
We all have multiple internal hamster wheels. Some are massive and seem to be made up of the entirety of life itself. Others are small, or less noticeable, and are in and out of our attention. Regardless of size, though, once we are aware that our focus is racing away inside a hamster wheel, we’re no longer utterly consumed by it but, instead, are in relationship with it. This is an amazing first step – an empowering first step – because from that place of awareness we can then direct our attention towards something other than the hamster wheel…
Said another way, sometimes all it takes to throw a wrench in the works of that hamster wheel is the recognition that our attention is being consumed by it in the first place. Experiencing massive mental activity is the first sign for me – I can literally feel the tension in my head. And then having that awareness of “Oh!! I am really ‘mentaling’ right now!” allows me to give pause, and change behavior.
With one fully engaged breath, I can change my path.
That’s what happened on the morning I mentioned, as I was lying in bed thinking myself into a flurry. One deep breath, and all of a sudden my system was reset. Did my “problems” go away? Did the calendar empty out? No. Nothing really changed…except my attention. But that changed everything. My body relaxed. My senses awakened. I was present.
We can be so busy in our lives, taking in more and more data as we go.
Think about it- Every cell in our body has a sense receptor, so our bodies are constantly taking in sensory information. We’re quite literally “sense receptor mechanisms,” so it’s no wonder we are overwhelmed by the end of the day! But we don’t have to be, if we can just pay attention.
Due to habit, most of us continuously “tune out” or become dissociative in the face of overwhelm. This is an innocent strategy but is not sustainable, and bit by bit it actually adds to our experience of overwhelm. Luckily there is another way! We can choose to curiously and gently work with ourselves in such a way as to not feel overwhelmed by the end of the day, by simply resetting our systems.
At any moment we can push the reset button.
Pushing the reset button allows us to release old data so that we can take on fresh data.
Pushing the reset button allows us to experience the present moment, instead of living from the hamster wheel of the chaotic mind.
Pushing the reset button allows us to feel, instead of engaging in unhealthy behaviors which keep us from feeling.
How can we push the reset button?
There’s obviously no actual button to push, but we can experience a reset through conscious and mindful attention. Here are a few simple suggestions:
Stop. This is the first step to a reset. Take moments throughout the day to literally stop moving, and/or take moments throughout the day to stop ‘mentallizing’ (e.g. figuring out, analyzing, problem-solving, evaluating, judging, or thinking about thoughts). Stop any engagement in action and do-ing, and bring yourself into a state of “non-productivity.” While stopped, consciously bring attention to your breath. The breath can reset your system in a variety of ways: it can reset your nervous system; it can put a wrench in that hamster wheel; and it can bring your awareness into the present moment.
Slow down. As just mentioned, slowly bring your awareness to the present moment, through breath (or sensation). It’s impossible to breathe in the past, or to breathe in the future. It follows that, when you bring attention to the breath that is happening right now, you’ll automatically be bringing attention to the present moment. Follow the cycle of breath – all the way from your nostrils, down through your body to your lungs and belly, and then back up. Feel your body being engaged with the breathing that is happening in this moment. Some people find bringing attention to their breath triggering. If this is the case for you, go ahead and bring your attention to physical sensations: feeling into your toes, fingers, or sit bones, for example.
Simplify. Bring attention to the simplest of happenings, right now. Have you ever noticed that the mind loves to complicate everything? When you notice that everything seems extremely complicated, you’re likely caught smack dab in the centrifugal force of the hamster wheel. Find something – anything – simple in your present situation. Maybe it’s your feet on the floor, or your butt in the chair. Maybe it’s air moving in and out of nostrils. Maybe it’s the sounds or scents being perceived. Or the wind on your face. Maybe it’s the blinking of your eye lids.
Feel. Feel into the simplicity you’re connecting with. Don’t focus on thinking about your feet on the floor, but feeling your feet on the floor. Feel the air coming in and out of your nostrils. Feel your ribs move with your breath cycle. Feel the wind/air on your face.
Curiosity. Engage your curious inner child. Be curious about… well, about anything! Be curious about the leaves blowing in the wind. Or the sound of the birds. Or how you can feel your heartbeat move through your body. Being curious opens the neural network in the brain’s right hemisphere which helps to facilitate awareness and spaciousness. Being curious is not about finding answers or figuring anything out – it’s precisely the opposite. It’s similar to wondering, just for the sake of wondering.
Once you’ve stopped yourself in your (mental or literal) tracks, continue to curiously and slowly stay present, allowing your nervous system – and maybe even your day – to reset. It always amazes me to rediscover how much less stressful life becomes when I engage in reset practices. I no longer feel the pressure to “figure out,” and the tendency to get caught up in “it” loosens its hold.
Please try these suggested techniques next time you find yourself thinking, thinking, thinking away on that hamster wheel. I suspect that with a little practice you’ll find that, as a result, life becomes more fluid, restful, and enjoyable!