MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS: The mind is a terrible thing to watch

By Jim Runnels
Special to the Herald Democrat

 “Some people drink to get relieve from the torture of their minds, which continuously tells them of their problems.”  - Eckhart Tolle 

What happens when you sit in a quiet room with no distractions, no TV, no cell phone or music? You experience what Eckhart calls the “torture of the mind.” That involuntary, incessant and continuous stream of thought that is largely negative, repetitive, and even destructive.  Scientist even have a name for it – the Default Mode Network (DMN). The DMN consist of a system of networks in the brain that is responsible for producing these thoughts on a continuous basis. 

The DMN is active when you are thinking about others, thinking about yourself, remembering the past, and planning for the future. This mind activity increases when you are thinking about the desires, beliefs, and intentions of others, when remembering what happened in the past, and when planning for the future. This ‘perspective thinking’ is primarily used to develop one’s sense of self. What do other people think of me, how do I stack up in comparison to others, and of course, the big anxiety creator- What if? 

Since these thoughts are typically repetitive, incessant and largely negative, it is not difficult to understand how they are our greatest source of anxiety and depression. These thoughts are always accompanied with emotions and sometimes strong emotions. Over activity of the DMN may help to explain common symptoms in major depression. Major depression is characterized by increased rumination (over thinking) or the recurrent, reflective, and uncontrollable focus on the depressed mood and its causes and consequences.  

Most of us are completely unaware of the massive amount of unconscious process that is continuously created by the mind. As a result, we begin to identify with and believe the negative commentary running in our minds. What can be done to become aware of this running commentary and to replace it with something more helpful? This is where mindfulness meditation is so helpful. Simply put, mindfulness is: the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, to the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, to the unfolding of thoughts and emotions moment by moment. 

 A regular practice of mindfulness helps us begin to notice these thoughts, to see the negative pattern, to feel the negative emotions attached to them, and to stop taking our thought so seriously. Not identifying with our thoughts is the beginning of freedom from them.  

Let’s try it. Sit comfortably in a chair, focus attention on your breathing. Become aware not only of your thoughts but any negative emotion that may arise. Be “the one, who observes,” the silent watcher. This is the power of your own conscious presence. Accept that those thoughts and emotions are here. Don’t judge or analyze. Don’t make an identity for yourself out of it. Stay present, and continue to be the observer of what is happening inside you. Then see what happens. 

This practice can be done anywhere anytime. It does not have to be in a formal setting, however, setting aside 10 to 20 minutes a day can be very helpful in the beginning.  

For further exploration search Eckhart Tolle and/or Jon Kabat-Zinn. 

Jim Runnels

Jim Runnels is a retired Licensed Professional Counselor and advocate of evidence-based education and supporter of the health benefits of a whole food plant-based, active lifestyle, to achieve optimal health. He is the administrator of Eat Healthy-Texoma Facebook page. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.