Stop. Breathe. Think.
I closed my eyes.
Relax. Recharge. Reflect.
I observed my mind. What did I find?
In the depths of my awareness, I entered both a paradise of peace, and a tornado of turbulence; after dwelling in the clear, still present, I submerged into the chaotic void of the unreal. I remembered - I relived my experiences until they fused and forged with my internalized narrative. I fantasized – I mapped out millions of possibilities branching into the infinite maze of the future. Ultimately, I returned home – I explored the core and root of my own thoughts and feelings.
I entered into freedom. I could choose what to think about. I could change. I could grow. I was hungry for purpose, and thirsty for inspiration. Why was I here? Who would I become? How would I help the world? At the center of my swirling universe, I tasted the truth – I had free will. I was free will.
Breaking the chains, I bolted from the dark cave into the daylight. I curved around the rocky slope, crossed the pasture, and darted into the forest; after hopping over surfaced tree roots, and shuffling down muddy hills, I finally reached the overflowing spring. Beneath my toe, a ripple spread and shattered the still reflection of the tree canopy.
I dove into the icy underworld, and pulled forward and deeper, towards a bright light that cut through the murkiness. After a few strokes, I grabbed onto the radiating, golden glow – a large, unlocked wooden chest. Light spilled out as I lifted the top, unraveled the scroll inside, and read the clear, black words printed on the white parchment.
Control It. Don’t Let It Control You. Reclaim Your Mind.
Mending Mind: Healing Head and Heart
The first step to reclaiming my mind was reclaiming my thoughts. Over the past decade, I’ve spent hundreds of hours in bus stops, doctors’ offices, bathrooms, and showers, and every hour was packed with about a thousand possible thoughts. What was I thinking about? Every thought is healthy or harmful, constructive or destructive – every thought carries a choice. Will I control my thoughts? Or will my thoughts control me?
A few years ago, I took control. I elected myself CEO, and implemented my first big change: every important decision goes through me. Fear, anger, and habit won't act without my oversight; creativity and discipline won't withhold information from each other; public relations won't change the company budget. Moving forward, I, Mr. CEO, am in charge. After all, I founded this company.
Now, at Me Inc.., every choice is an exercise and experiment. Tea or coffee? Sleep or study? Personal improvement or community service? Every opportunity is an evaluation. What’s healthier? What’s smarter? What will help me grow? What will help grow the world? Thousands of choices fill my schedule, and I weigh each one on the scales of intellect. What are my priorities? What are the pros and cons? What’s right? By reclaiming my choices, I reclaimed my thoughts.
I also reclaimed my emotions. Most people think emotions are like weather. Sometimes you’re happy, and sometimes you’re sad. Today, you predict partly anxious with a forty percent chance of angry outburst, and, tomorrow, a new front of warm optimism moves in from the south. Emotions are NOT like weather. Emotions are like radio stations – you can turn the dial.
For many years I felt sad, anxious, and empty. Although my emotional dysfunction wasn’t quite diagnosable, this gray cloud blocked me from deep fulfillment and real joy. I wanted happiness, peace, and purpose. I wanted to feel better.
Why did I feel bad? I started thinking, and soon it hit me. Maybe I was sad because I was reading Hemingway’s short stories about fictional Nick Adams, an alcoholic destroying his closest relationships. Maybe I was anxious because I was following CNN, and the headlines screamed, North Korea builds nukes… School shooting in safe suburb… Russia threatens trade war… “Death flu” kills hundreds. Maybe I was empty because I was listening to pop hits glamorize the pursuit of physical pleasures and material accomplishments. Maybe my emotional landscape wasn’t an unfortunate accident. Maybe it was time to switch the radio station.
Here, the psychologists had it backwards. I wasn’t consuming sad content because I felt sad; I felt sad because I was consuming sad content. You are what you eat – if you eat trash, you become trash. Likewise, you are what you watch, listen to, and read. If you read sadness you feel sad. Duh! I dropped the Hemingway; I stopped following mainstream news; I turned off the Spotify. I hit the reset button, and cut out all poisonous distractions.
As my own CEO, I calculated my choices. Was the product worth the price? It didn’t pay to dig for diamonds in the dumpster. There are pros and cons to Hemingway, CNN, Spotify, Ritalin, carbohydrates and almost everything else in the world. Everything consists of good and bad ingredients, so I always check the fine print on the shiny wrapper.
Every choice is a trade-off. What do I value more? Knowing what’s going on in the world or mental and emotional well-being? Instant interconnectivity or independent introspection? Easy entertainment or enlightening engagement? Knowing the trade-off is step one to choosing right, and choosing right is reclaiming one’s mind.
Returning to the Cave
Sometimes it hurts to heal head and heart; sometimes our closest friends and family reject our choices and goals. Sometimes we smack into a wall of cosmic resistance, and there is no way around, over, or beneath it. What do we do?
Control it. Don’t let it control you. Growth needs pain like plants need water, and greatness thrives off opposition. Greatness goes through the wall. Greatness transforms the wall into a step – a ten-foot wall is a small step for a one-hundred-foot person.
It’s time to choose. Some claim that free will doesn’t exist, and they are right - when one chooses to deny free will, it doesn’t exist. When one surrenders choice, one is swept away with the downstream current.
Others affirm and accept choice, and they are also right – when one accepts choice, choice blossoms. When one embraces choice, one swims upstream towards the source of life and truth, towards the overflowing spring.
With the glowing scroll in my right hand, I returned back to the dark cave. I descended down a rocky, spiral staircase, and turned left into a straight, narrow tunnel with torches along the walls; after a few hundred meters, the underground corridor opened up to a massive cavern.
I scrambled up the cave floor to a plateau of pavement with a broken yellow line, and suddenly a taxi honked and whizzed past. In the distance, skyscrapers lined the cave walls, stretching up to the earth ceiling. After weaving through the alleyways, I entered into the apartment where my broken chains were on the ground.
Stop. Breath. Think.
I closed my eyes.
Relax. Recharge. Reflect.
I observed my mind. This is what I found.