You yourself are your own obstacle, rise above yourself (Hafez)

In my last blog: Welcome It All (see blog: DavidRosslcsw.com) I suggest an alternative to seeing life through the lens of a series of problems to solve.  Referencing and appreciating the wisdom of Rumi, the 13th century poet, and mystic.  His poem ‘The Guest House’ invites us, to shift our attention from seeing life as a series of struggles and problems to life as an amazing opportunity.   Taking Rumi’s cue, I suggested welcoming our struggles and inviting them in:

…what if we could simply be with what is? To calm, to breathe, to relax, and allow rather than our instinctual response to reject and push away what unsettles us. We are constantly reacting internally and externally to what we don’t want to accept. Yet, there is much to be gained by relaxing around what is.  Accepting what is doesn’t mean we buy what is—it simply means that it is what it is in this moment. For example, when someone says or does something we don’t like or agree with, we react by getting tight physically and emotionally.  By breathing into the discomfort and giving ourselves time, we can begin to see with greater neutrality and openness.  Therefore, I suggest opening and pushing nothing away as everything is our potential teacher.  Consider repeating ‘thank you’ over and over, as you look for and open to the possible ways of better understanding and handling any situation at hand.  Be with what is.

In this blog, “Welcome It All: Part Two—The Mind”, I write about mastering our mind and life by observing and breaking the habit of worry, fear, and anxiety.  So many that I have worked with over the years struggle with anxiety, worry, and fear that comes largely from fear thoughts that impact them and others in destructive ways. 

Gaining control of our lives by gaining control of our thoughts takes attention and a firm unending commitment.    


Our thoughts are an integral part of who we are and play a major role in shaping our world.    Given this, it is curious how little attention we give to observing our thoughts, what we tell ourselves, and if what we’re thinking is negative and destructive.   

Example: An individual came to work on issues of anger, rage, jealousy, and addiction.  His destructive, threatening thoughts and behaviors were out of control. I was curious and asked if he recalled having times of questioning his thoughts and reflecting on what he was saying internally.  His response was an immediate ‘never’!  He believed that whatever he thought was valid.  This might seem extreme but ask yourself how often you question your thoughts?  How often do you stop yourself from thinking thoughts that provoke anger, fear, resentment, or destructive behaviors?  How often do you have a thought that you believe is true despite the lack of concrete facts to support what you’re telling yourself?  How often do you speak back to your thoughts?

Consider:  Anthropologists working in an African village where the adults and children lived in areas open to the wild with their huts exposed and unprotected:  The elders in the village had a keen appreciation for the children’s fear of being attacked by wild animals. In their wisdom, they taught and reminded the children to observe their thoughts and speak back to their fear. For example, a common thought was: ‘There’s a Lion behind the tree and it’s going to eat me’. The elders taught the children to respond with realistic thoughts: ‘That’s a thought that’s not likely to happen’, thereby helping the children calm their fear and anxiety.  This awareness and teaching about observing and confronting fear thoughts is unknown in most cultures including ours.  Even when we’re old enough to observe ourselves and change our self-talk, we seldom correct our negative thoughts. 

Observing your mind and your thoughts, notice the similarity to a radio station playing in the background. Our thoughts are generally in the background—going on about the most recent irritating situation.  While driving, the thoughts are often nonstop and have our attention to the point that we can go long periods wrapped in thought with no memory of where we have been or how far we’ve gone.  This rumination and can hold us hostage and preoccupied for hours.

The good news is that we are the observer, and we choose.  We are not the random voice in our head.  It is our choice to choose to interrupt and replace our negative fear thoughts with thoughts that serve our highest good.

 Steps to take:

  1. Shift your self-talk:  From passive rumination to active positive words of affirmation:
    1. I can do this
    1. I will do this
    1. I have value
    1. One day at a time
    1. Help me find peace
    1. Peace is the way
    1. Calm is the way
    1. I am free
    1. I am love
    1. Everyone is my teacher, everyone
    1. Help me get beyond my anger and resentment
    1. I choose—I’m in charge
    1. Thank you—help me see the deeper lessons
    1. Thank you, thank you, thank you
  • Meditation:  This practice gives us the opportunity to notice our thoughts and over time to gain greater control over them and come to greater and greater stillness.  The practice helps develop a deeper sense of presence and calm.  Here are some basics:   
    • Find a quiet place, sit in a relaxed way, set a timer for however long you want, close your eyes and get comfortable yet alert.
    • Take several slow calming breaths focusing on the breath in and the breath out.
    • On the in breath silently say ‘1’ and on the out breath silently say ‘2’. Repeat over and over slowly and calmly.
    • When thoughts enter, release and return to noticing the breath repeating the mantra: ‘1’ ‘2’ ‘1’ ‘2’.  The mantra or counting helps focus and release thoughts. 
    • Any length of time you sit is good. Over time you will be able to sit longer.

Note: Entering ‘meditation’ into your browser will give lots of additional information.

  • Gratitude: It is a gift to acknowledge and feel grateful for our life and all that we have; and yet there are times when gratitude feels far away.  When feeling depressed and hopeless for example, thinking about what we’re grateful for can feel phony and angering or just not accessible.


An individual with a recent diagnosis of prostate cancer expressed anger toward the sun and blue sky when internally there was darkness and despair.

Walking with an individual in recovery, it took months before he was able to notice and appreciate the flowers being pointed out along the way.

Stages of gratitude:

      a.      Be with whatever your current stage of gratitude: The journey begins with a single step.

      b.     Sometimes we can practice ‘fake it until you make it’ and if so, then work with that. 

      c.      Sometimes it helps to remember that as bad as it is, it could be worse. 

      d.     Can you begin to feel and acknowledge areas of good fortune:  family, friends, sight, sound, walking, hands, feet, toes and more and more.

      e.     Liberation and freedom enter when we give heartfelt acknowledgement: ‘Thank you for it all’ recognizing everything as a gift. 

  • Walk and be in nature:  There is a healing quality to being at a body of water, in a grove of trees, in a place of calm and peace.  Stop and focus on the beauty around you.  Breathe it in.  Listen to the sounds of nature, to a beautiful piece of music, to a work of art.
  • Challenge yourself: to slow down physically and slow your running from one thought to another.  Stop, breathe, take time to be present and in your body.  Notice your breath, your feet on the floor, relax and enjoy this moment.  Take charge of calming yourself. Replace thinking with breathing.  Enjoy this moment.  This moment is your life.
  • Compassion and forgiveness: are heart-opening values bringing us closer to one another and to our true selves.  For example, Jack Kornfield a Buddhist teacher shares compassion meditations. Google: Meditation on Compassion-Jack Kornfield.
  • End complaining:  Complaining, like gossip, is an energy drain and doesn’t make us feel good.  You can complain or you can use your awareness to observe this tendency and instead practice restraint and give yourself credit.
  • Journal: Rather than free-floating rambling thoughts, journaling on specific concerns with purpose looking for pros and cons, direction, and clarity is more helpful.
  •  Say it out loud: If you can’t stop thinking about past painful experiences, try talking out loud to let yourself hear more clearly what you are telling yourself to hear it and have greater control.
  1.  Intentionally shift your attention: Keep in mind that you can shift your attention.  If what you are thinking is distressing shift your attention.  Actively choose and listen to a beautiful piece of music. Look with full attention to the details of your surroundings. Pay attention to the sights, sounds, smells, colors, and details.
  1. Seek help:  It is a sign of strength to reach out for assistance.  No one is an island.
  1. Help others: Look for ways to help others and do acts of kindness. Everyone is our equal.

Summary:   In this blog, my intention is to share more concrete and specific practices for taking control of chronic self-defeating rumination and negative thinking.  Replacing unhealthy thinking with constructive behaviors and practices calls for a firm commitment to transform your life and live with peace and serenity.   May you be inspired and committed to the lifelong practice of healing and wholeness.

If you knew yourself for even one moment, if you could just glimpse your most beautiful face, maybe you wouldn’t slumber so deeply in that house of clay. Why not move into your house of joy and shine into every crevice! For you are the secret Treasure-bearer, and always have been. Didn’t you know? (Rumi)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *