Drunken Monkeys

Most of us have taken a knock to our confidence at one point or another. Generally, we find our footing and get back in the game. But sometimes the effects can linger making it difficult to regain our sense of self-worth. What do we do then?

What follows are excerpts of a recent conversation I had with Chelsea, a sport-scholarship student whose injury and illness redefined her sense of self and challenged her ability to be the strong, confident champion she is used to being.

“I can’t seem to reconnect with the strong person I used to be. I shy away from difficult situations, cry for no good reason and walk around saying ‘sorry’ to everyone, even to strangers, for no good reason. I used to be so confident, I was the toughest on the field and everyone looked up to me. I was a top scorer and inspired other team members to dig deep and win with me.”

“I understand that your illness was in part a result of pushing yourself too hard, over training, and maybe the wrong diet. Is that right?” I asked.

“Yes, that is true. But you have to do that to compete at my level. It wasn’t just one thing, but a combination of things including pressures to perform academically.”

“Are you well now?”

“I’m physically better, but not emotionally. I can’t seem to get back to my former self.”

“Is there anything else you haven’t mentioned?” I inquired. “Are there other factors contributing to your depression?”

“Well, yes there are. My classmates and teammates haven’t helped. Friends I cared for and who I thought cared for me, now ignore me. It seems like I’m not one of them anymore. It feels like they are afraid of me, that maybe my bad luck will rub off on them. A couple of them have actually been quite mean. Some of my teachers also don’t seem to get it. They look at me and remember the old, ‘better me’ and try to push me back into shape. I am sure they mean well, but it’s having the opposite effect.”

I took the time to reflect back to Chelsea what I had heard from her. I empathised with her experience and validated the feelings I understood she had.

“Shall we talk about making a come back and regaining your confidence? Look at a few ideas that can help you do that?”

“I was hoping you had some advice.”

“First step is to talk it through with someone, like you are doing with me now. Let’s take some time to reflect on your previous successes. How did you achieve those? You’re a winner by nature. Looking at your past hard work and how it paid off will help. This means remembering the good.”

Chelsea told me about her past challenges and successes. I wrote them down and shared them back with her afterwards. I encouraged her to feel the positivity of her wins and to connect within herself as the observer, the witness of those wins.

“The next step is a kind of meditation. Clear your mind of all concerns. Step back into yourself and observe that you are different from the mind. You are the viewer of what goes on in the mind, just like a person in a cinema watches a movie projected on a screen, you are observing changeable mental chatter being played on the screen of your mind. Sometimes the chatter is helpful and feels good, sometimes it’s not and causes us stress. The movie in our mind changes all the time. Some days are good, some days are not. The movie changes, but the viewer, the witness which is you – does not change. Yoga teaches that this viewer is the soul, the real and unchanging self. Yogis who know this are able to change the script of their mental chatter and make it positive, even joyful.”

“I’ve been thinking about this. I have a sense of it. In my better days I observed my mind as strong, determined and able to will myself toward success. Then I got ill and my mind reacted to that, which created a different inner dialogue.”

“And from what you said, it sounds as though that negative voice was reinforced by what you heard from your friends and teammates.”

“Yes, that is right. At first their negativity confused me and then I started believing it! It was like they were reading out from the same script I observed in my mind.”

“So, you get the distinction,” I said. “You are more than just the mind. You are the observer of the mind and you can write it a new script.”

“I get it. I’ve recognised that I can’t fight the mind. It’s too stubborn. And it’s painful when I think I am the negative chatter of the mind. Especially because I know that I’m not. I am capable of better.”

“In the Bhagavad-Gita, Arjuna tells Lord Krishna that controlling the mind seems more difficult than controlling the raging wind.”

“How does Krishna reply?”

“That it is possible, with practice and detachment.”

“Detachment means stepping back from the mind and not identifying with its chatter?”

“Yes.”

“And the practice? What is that?”

“There are many practices that can strengthen the mind and make it our friend. A simple practice is to observe and perceive.”

“Can you explain?”

“The very attempt to control the mind illustrates that the mind is not the self. The mind is not the observer or the witness. For instance, if you say to your mind, ‘don’t be negative… don’t think bad thoughts,’ it will certainly resist, and become more stubborn. If you tell the mind to quiet down, it raises its voice. Lord Buddha said that it’s as though the mind is populated with drunken monkeys who want our attention.”

“It seems that you are saying that I shouldn’t engage in conversation with the negative chatter.”

“Exactly. My suggestion is that you should converse with the higher mind, the part of your mind that thrives on the positive, the hopeful and the dynamic.”

“That is the old me, for sure. I get the point about changing my perception and not believing the negative mind, or my negative friends. Are there are other things I can do to rebuild my confidence.”

“Let me tell you about simple practices that can help you do that. With a little bit of effort and some patience, you will see how you can change your mind and your outlook for the better…”

—Michael

—To be continued—

 

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