Taking a U Turn From Thought: A Mindful Pathway Out of Trance

Oct 11, 2021

“Who is your enemy?” said the Buddha. “Mind is your enemy. Not one can harm you more than a mind untrained. Who is your friend? No one can assist you and care for you better than your mind well-trained. Not even the most loving mother or father.”

When I am in trance I am lost in thoughts, usually disconnected from my body and cut off from my heart. I decided to experiment with the U-turn at a time when I was being hijacked by obsessive worrying, planning or judging.

One day I was sitting in the Post Office, I had strategically planned out my day, choosing a time that would provide me with the most convenience the day before. I arrived early, got my ticket and found a seat in the comfort of air conditioning and waited for my number to be called. Holding the ticket, I was staring at the number.

Number 28. Ok, its number 20 right now I have some time. So, as I was sitting instead of taking a pause, taking a few deep breaths and letting go of any obvious tension in my mind and body and shifting to the present moment experience. Instead, I started thinking about what I was going to prepare for dinner, oh yes, I need to pick up broccoli and pasta.  I must make an appointment for Sasha at the vet, I mustn’t forget to tell him about her obsessive chewing at her paw. It bothers me that she is doing that, it could get infected, in the worst-case scenario she could lose her paw. What is causing this problem, have I done something wrong? Perhaps its her diet? I need to find a better food formula. She deserves the best food but it so expensive. I wish I was earning more money. I need to create a new marketing plan. I need to organize my time better and go to sleep earlier. Yeah, but I like being a night owl. Maybe I can be a night owl only on the weekends. I need to be more proactive. I have to organize my time better. That reminds me I haven’t called my mom.

I wonder how she is doing. I wish she wasn’t so far away. I am worried about her health and being alone. I feel guilty for being so far away. Did I make a mistake moving to Israel? Afterall I’m an only child I should be looking after my mom now that she is old. I feel I haven’t been a good daughter. Suddenly, I remembered where I was. I looked up and it was Number 41!!! Was I in trance or was I present? I believe we all know something about having an experience like this. It was like being in a virtual reality of thoughts and emotionally charged stories. In that moment I was trying to solve problems, satisfy desires, get rid of discomfort, make my way to the future when things might be better.

A trance takes us to unconscious beliefs, feelings, and memories that drive our decision and reactions to life. When we are in trance, we usually feel separate or alone, threatened, and or incomplete.

 Here’s an interesting experiment.  Practice with eyes closed, for 30-second or one-minute, notice picture thoughts, word thoughts, whatever kind of thoughts they are and simply number them.

Let your eyes close and begin counting your thoughts.

Just let yourself sit and see what happens. So, here’s a simple question for you – how many thoughts did you count? 6, 11, 5, 17, 20…if you only had 3 thoughts were they longer thoughts? Were they loud, soft, insistent, were they picture thoughts? Were they both audio and video? Now here is something else: one of the things that happen when you really begin to pay attention to the thought stream is you notice how many reruns there are and 90% of the thoughts that you’re having are reruns from some past show, many times repeated. And guess what, a lot of “fake news!!”

Tara Brach renowned mindfulness teacher in America describes trance as “Ordinary and familiar, wrapping us in a cocoon of habit. It can carry us in pleasurable fantasy, immerse us in obsessive thinking, and tumble us in waves of painful emotion. But whatever the content of trance, we are cut off from ourselves and cut off from our capacity to connect authentically with those around us. We’re just not all there!”

How do we know when we’re in trance? The following are some examples: (taken from Tara’s book: “Radical Compassion”)

·      I realize I’ve just gone through a whole bag of trail mix or chocolates.

·      Even the small stuff feels like “just too much.”

·      I’m listening to someone and planning how to get outside for a cigarette or a bathroom break.

·      I lose an hour or two following links online, Instagram or Facebook.

·      My neck starts hurting, and I realize my shoulders are up and knotted and that I’ve been anxious for hours.

·      I notice the inner voice ( mothet) saying, “Can’t you do anything right?

·      I’m walking through a store and suddenly realize I’m comparing my body with every other woman’s I see.

·      I drive from the supermarket back to home and I don’t remember the ride.

·      I’m rushing around trying to get things done, and I hurt myself or break something or make a stupid mistake. 

Recognizing these wake-up calls can help bring yourself back into your body. For me, this means that when I catch myself worrying about something I can’t control, or feeling guilty about letting someone down, I become more alert. This is a wake-up call about my fear of falling short and physical tension I’m carrying. These fearful beliefs aren’t truth and I that I have more choice as to how to spend my time.

What becomes liberating is to notice the thought process itself. What is your style of thinking? What are the patterns? Are they thoughts about the future a lot? And if they are, you probably will notice those stories have a kind of anxiety behind them, trying to manage it all. Or longing in them.

Are they thoughts about the past? And then you might notice with them the themes of grief, love, guilt or nostalgia. And you begin to look with the awareness, with loving awareness into the mind itself.

And of course, inner judging thoughts, including the entire jury!

Jack Kornfield teacher of Buddhist wisdom and mindfulness reminds us that the mind has no pride, and it will think anything. This is what the mind does—it thinks. The key isn’t to meditate and stop thinking, we all have thoughts, planning thoughts, anxious thoughts, loving thoughts, all kinds. The point isn’t to get rid of them, but to see them for what they are. An invitation to hold things lightly, not that the thoughts go away or that they won’t be there, but to remember “This too is just a thought”

In either case our thoughts are sound bites and or images that form a map of reality in our mind, they are mental representations or symbols of our experience. I don’t have to believe my thoughts they are just thoughts!

Some maps are useful. For instance, I may have a thought that if I watch the news or follow the internet late at night, I won’t be able to relax, and have restful sleep. This thought can guide my behavior to take better care of myself. Other maps can be harmful like, the belief if I say no to my friend, or change an appointment, it proves I’m a bad person and they won’t like me.

We mistake our stories about ourselves and the world for reality itself. Understanding “real but not true” can free us from a mind prison.

A Zen teaching says, a finger pointing to the moon is not the moon itself. The story goes a group of students were hiking in the mountains. There were many rocks and boulders in their path. The leader pointed out to them “Do you see those rocks?  Are they heavy?”

Everyone replied, “Yes, they look very heavy.” The leader replied, “They are not heavy if you don’t pick them up.”  Same as the thoughts that we carry in our mind. Learning to be more selective about what we keep and what we let go of with kindness.