Ever think the unthinkable? Ever find yourself horrified at what your mind has imagined?
Don’t worry, it’s completely normal.
When we awake from a dream, we may find we have dreamt all kinds of impossibilities. We may die in our dreams, we may dream of murder, we may go off on fantastic adventures. We can have two heads or live in a mansion made of clouds. Our whole world can look remarkably different. This too, is mind running wild, but when we wake up, we can say, “Phew! It was only a dream.”
In real life, we often take our thoughts to be the truth.
Scientists have discovered that when our minds are not occupied with a task, they default to a kind of daydreaming, mind-wandering state called the Default Mode Network.
This network is responsible for rumination. It seems to increase opinions about ourselves, opinions about others, remembering the past or envisioning the future. And scientists have found that while some of its activities are pleasant or useful, like encouraging us to feel empathy and review our actions, in many of us, the activation of the DMN triggers negative thoughts and emotions.
That means that for most of us, when our minds wander, they wander to a negative place.
Multiple studies have demonstrated that increased connection and activity in parts of the DMN are correlated with major anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.
When we are actively involved in a task, such as physical activity or carrying on a conversation, we de-activate the DMN. So no wonder we often suppress our rising negative thoughts and feelings by keeping ourselves busy!
If we allow rising negative thoughts to take over, we increase our suffering. If we continually suppress our negative thoughts in a constant stream of activity, we can end up exhausted.
So what to do?
By working with the mind, we can train our attention to follow the breath. This is a task, but one that helps us feel contentment and well-being. By bringing an open awareness to our minds, by noticing thoughts as they arise, we can learn to let them go without buying in into their storylines.