Sanctuary of the Mind

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droplets“Your mind is a sacred enclosure into which nothing harmful can enter except by your permission.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emotional turmoil occurs when we put a negative interpretation on whatever is happening in our lives. Often the struggle is with attachment—wanting things to be a certain way or people to act in accordance with our wishes, or it is with a reluctance to accept change. It is almost as though individuals feel under attack; or that the Universe is consciously sabotaging our plans or wishes.

Sometimes the source of angst is comments from others, or knowledge that someone is not pleased with us. I have witnessed clients agonize for days or years over negative judgments others hold of them. They vacillate between defending themselves and launching their own attacks—if only in their thoughts—against their critics.

Disappointment in others, or in the way things are, creates toxicity in our mind/body system. This is not to say that we should never be disappointed, only that we should not remain in this state, dwelling upon the awfulness of it all. We either decide there is nothing we can do, and let it go, or we determine an appropriate course of action, moving forward to implement it. Then we let it go.

Of course many things will happen in life that go against our preferences. We can develop the grace that comes from our essential humility: we are not, after all, in charge of very much. We do have control over how we interpret events, and how we react. Witness two scenes from the movie, Titanic. First, consider the orchestra members who continued to make music as the ship slowly sank. They knew the end was near, but boldly chose to do what they loved right to the end, in spite of their fear. Then there was the elderly couple who also knew it was the end, and chose to lay in each other’s arms, rather than to participate in a panic-filled escape attempt which would surely have separated them.

Thankfully, our challenges generally are not of this magnitude. If we begin to think of our minds as sacred enclosures, we can be very selective as to what we allow to circulate in them. As with a garden, we can weed it regularly, getting rid of anything that detracts from what we wish to cultivate. As we choose to avoid toxic chemicals, so we can avoid toxic thoughts.

Toxic thoughts include those that are judgmental, critical, or polarizing—either in relation to others or ourselves. Such thoughts may originate in our own minds, or may come from what others say. Tempting as it can be to gossip, doing so fills our consciousness with toxicity. When we listen to such talk, we are giving another permission to contaminate our sacred enclosure. When we say such things, we contaminate the consciousness of others.

Self-talk can be just as damaging. Self-criticism undermines our sense of worth and creates inner agitation. It can be such an integral part of our daily thinking process that we may be scarcely aware we are doing it. It may have nothing at all to do with others, but rather forms a regular negative self-evaluation related to appearance or performance. Some individuals contaminate their own minds in the complete absence of any negativity from others. In spite of an outward appearance of success, they undermine themselves from within.

Self-talk can also occur in relation to others. When upset, we often carry both sides of an imaginary conversation with an adversary. The physical body does not differentiate between the stresses generated by real conversations or imaginary ones. When we play real or imaginary conversations over and over in our minds, we continue to re-contaminate ourselves.

Toxic thoughts are like viruses. Developing wisdom and peace of mind requires that we strengthen the ‘immune system’ of our consciousness. We do this by choosing healthy patterns in our dealings with others, in our relationship with ourselves. It also requires setting clear boundaries with ourselves and others—making a conscious decision to no longer entertain toxic thoughts or conversations.

Regardless of what is happening in our lives, we can keep ourselves from being harmed in the same way that health care workers can avoid contracting the illnesses they treat. If we develop a healthy ‘immunity’ to psychological toxicity by adopting strong values and clear boundaries, and practice good ‘mental hygiene’, our minds will become not only sacred enclosures, but peaceful sanctuaries.

Copyright © Gwen Randall-Young, All Rights Reserved. Contact us if you would like permission to reprint.