Mindfulness and Freedom From Negative Thoughts
The holiday of Passover, also known as the Festival of Freedom, commemorates our redemption from slavery. We were physically enslaved, which had an impact on our psychological freedom, and triggered a wide range of emotions such as fear, anxiety, despair, pessimism, and hopelessness. These feelings lasted long after the people were redeemed from slavery. To be liberated from oppression is the beginning of freedom, not its end goal. We became free from our Egyptian masters not only to be free but to become a nation and receive the Torah at Mt. Sinai.
The freedom of Passover is more than just the absence of bondage.
Thankfully, most of us have not been slaves, but we can identify with being enslaved by negative thoughts of worries, fears, and regrets.
We have the freedom to break free from negative habits and become our more positive and healthy selves.
Thoughts reinforce feelings and feelings reinforce thoughts, and we may not even be aware that we are in a cycle of negativity and stress.
We live with so many unhealthy habits, automatic reactions, distractions, and mistaken assumptions.
We have thousands of thoughts a day. How many do we let pass, and how many do we attach ourselves to, limiting our freedom to live? Changing our thoughts can change the way we feel.
Mindfulness brings conscious awareness to automatic reactions and behaviors, giving us freedom from our unhealthy thoughts by placing our attention on and observing our negative thoughts or feelings rather than getting caught up in them. We can start by first paying attention to our breath, which can regulate our response to stress and can reduce fear and anxiety by observing the pace of our breath. This enables us to become neutral observers of our inner experiences such as thoughts, sensations, and feelings, and observe whatever arises into our awareness without judgment and without trying to change what we are experiencing
We all have the potential for freedom from our unhealthy thoughts and behaviors, and we also have the freedom to choose how to react to external stimuli, as well asbeg kinder to ourselves and others.
So how can mindfulness practice help us to be freer?
Let’s try a mindfulness meditation practice with a focus on freeing ourselves from a cycle of negative thoughts and feelings.
Start by finding a comfortable place to sit where you won’t be disturbed. Checking in with your posture– your back is straight and your shoulders are relaxed.
Noticing points of contact that your body is making with whatever surface you’re sitting on. ( pause)
Bringing awareness to your breath as you breathe in and breathe out. (pause)
Let yourself relax into this moment and this meditation.
And noticing any tension in your body. Bringing awareness to areas of tension might help soften those areas. (pause)
Can you try to be aware of whatever you’re feeling without judging it?
Neutral awareness means that we observe sensations, feelings, and thoughts without judgment and without becoming too caught up in them. When we’re stressed we might take it out on ourselves or others, something that could have a negative ripple effect like a stone dropping into a pool of water.
We practice noticing a thought or feeling without engaging in it and put a little distance between ourselves and the thought or feeling.
We can also say to our thoughts and feelings "I see you,” and simply observe
Notice how thoughts come and go. Let’s take a moment to try this. (pause)
Give the feeling some space and allow it to hang out a little and let it be.
Observe it some more. ( pause)
Observing leads to more awareness or insight and can change the way we react, which can bring freedom from unhealthy habits.
And awareness leads to learning more about your experiences (thoughts and feelings) and getting to know --and hopefully accept-- yourself.
If you get caught up in a thought or feeling or sensation while doing this practice, bring your attention back to the meditation when you notice it. (pause)
Is there any tension that you're noticing in your body? Can you imagine softening towards your body in your shoulders, jaws, and forehead?
How does this softness feel?
Can you smile at whatever you’re feeling?
When you notice a worry or fear or any negative thought or emotion that comes up. Invite it in. Don’t push it away. Be curious about it.
Say “I see you”
You are a curious observer.
Let go of the criticism and, frustration at yourself or others.
Imagine what it would be like to surrender and let go of our counter-productive thoughts. (Pause)
And while you’re doing this, add some self-compassion. Bring some understanding and care that you would show to someone else– towards yourself.
Imagine softening towards yourself….
When we pay more attention to our experiences, and become more aware and hopefully less self-critical, we open the door to greet whatever is there.
And that’s how we find freedom-- freedom to be more curious and open to our experiences, which can help us be more present in our daily lives – and that is true freedom!