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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Agapite o Filo Mou - Making Your Mind Your Beloved Friend - Part 1

Challenging Your Thoughts

One of the things Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferers and survivors experience is the bombardment of unwanted thoughts, memories, images, and hauntings of the past.  These various thought forms invade our peace, make war against our minds, and keep us trapped in a vicious cycle of remembering and re-living these painful events.  Our minds, in an effort to make sense out of what happened, and bring some kind of resolution to the wound we received, or to assuage the tremendous amount of guilt and shame which most likely is attached to the traumatic experience, or to just find a way out of the excruciating pain, re-cycles the event over and over again like a broken record.  We re-live the experience incessantly, and become imprisoned by the brutalizing thoughts we have about ourselves, about the people involved, and all those who were affected by the consequences of the actions taken or not taken. 

So how do you break this pattern?  You’ve got to learn how to challenge the thoughts and memories as they come in, de-construct them, learn to separate illusion from reality, and replace those thoughts with images, feelings, sensations, and memories that make you feel good.  At my lowest point, when I was in the midst of my deepest and darkest attacks my mind was making upon me as a consequence of the PTSD I suffered and the excruciating pain I was experiencing, my thoughts were unmerciful and punishing.  I would re-live every moment of every step which led to the moment when I opened the door and discovered all my ex-fiance’s stuff gone.  I’d re-live the trauma experienced, every single moment, day after day, month after month; I’d go back in my mind and look for clues as to what I missed; I’d blame myself for what happened; I felt enormous guilt and shame for the errors I committed in the relationship and mercilessly attacked myself for having done them; I’d blame her and wanted to seek revenge; I had fantasies of retaliating and satisfying my bloodlust; I’d shame myself for wanting to act out such fantasies and think of myself as an evil person;  the devil was in my mind, his minions were attacking me from all sides, and he was winning.

My whole body and sensory memory was negatively affected by the PTSD I experienced.  A sound would remind me of something.  I’d hear a voice, and it would remind me of her.  One of my many experiences with PTSD when I was in the military, there was a bottle smashed in the background of my telephone, which led to the crisis where one of my family member’s life was in danger, and every time I would hear a bottle smash, it would remind me of that painful memory.  Visiting old places my ex and I would go to would trigger certain things – for instance, eating at certain restaurants would trigger a flood of memories that would cause me a lot of suffering and distress.  Smells had the same effect, especially a woman who wore the same perfume as my ex did.  All these triggers would excite a deluge of negative emotions: anger, grief, guilt, shame, fear and uncontrollable rage.

These thoughts, feelings, and emotions have to be interrupted, they have to be scratched.  You must learn how to challenge your thoughts, and to do that without having to resort to alcohol, drugs, or medications.  The best way to do this is to establish a meditation practice.  A daily meditation practice, where you get up in the morning and spend at least five minutes in meditation, and close out the day in the evening with at least another five minutes of meditation, begins the process of you interrupting those thought patterns.  Below, I have provided a simple meditation technique to get you started.  If you have never meditated before, don’t worry, it’s not difficult, and only requires your commitment and dedication to the practice.

Meditation Technique:  Sit down quietly with your feet firmly planted in the ground, your hands on your thighs, back straight, but not rigid, relaxed, and close your eyes.  Focus on the breath coming in the nose.  Take a long inhale, filling up the lungs, and a long, slow exhale.  Pay attention to the air coming in and out; bring all your attention there.  Then, imagine a ball of golden light hovering right above your forehead.  This beautiful golden light.  Then, this ball of light begins to pour this purifying, healing light on top of your head, washing you clean.  This river of golden light starts from the head, and slowly moves down your face, feel it relaxing your eyes, your cheeks, your mouth and jaw, and as it moves down, all the stress and strain of the day is washed away.  Feel the light move down your neck, into your shoulders and chest, in your arms and hands and fingers and thumbs, filling up your limbs, down your abdomen and torso, all the while it is washing away all the stress and strain of the day, cleansing your body of all pain, worry, anxiety, or fear.  Feel the light move down into your legs, filling them up with this beautiful golden light, all the way to your ankles, feet, and toes.  Feel your whole body relax in this beautiful, healing, golden light.  Then, when you’re in this space, watch the thoughts that enter your mind from the observer perspective.  Ask the question in your mind, “I wonder what my next thought will be?”….”I wonder what my next thought will be?”  And as the thoughts come in, say the thought is “I need to get some apples from the grocery store,” hold it in your mind, thank it, and let it go, and start asking again, “I wonder what my next thought will be?”  The key is to let go of the thought, and observe how the mind is just receiving these thoughts that are affecting you, it is not thinking them.  Eventually, with continued practice, you will create space between those thoughts, and the more space you create the better.  It brings calmness and peace to the mind.  The more you do it, the easier it becomes, and the more space it creates.  As you survey your inner world, merely let whatever thoughts cross your mind come into awareness, each to be considered for a moment, and then replaced with “I wonder what my next thought will be?”  Try not to establish a hierarchy among them.  Watch them come and go as dispassionately as possible.  Do not dwell on anyone of them in particular, but try to let the stream move on evenly and calmly, without any investment on your part.  And breathe.  Breathing is the most important thing you can do during meditation.  I recommend you meditate at least 2 times a day, morning and night, a minimum of 5 minutes each time.  For best results, do it for a minimum of 20 minutes every time you meditate.