Patanjali, a yogic philosopher, teaches that yoga is the “stilling of the fluctuations of the mind”.  Another translation from the original Sanskrit is that yoga is the quieting of mental chatter.  If you’re anything like me, your first reaction to Patanjali’s lesson is “easier said than done” (or maybe ‘you first’ if you’re feeling particularly snarky).

QUIETING MENTAL CHATTER

We live in a bustling, high pressure, capitalist society that has little regard for what our nervous systems were designed to handle.  It’s not fair to expect ourselves to be perfect meditators on top of it all.  However, there’s something to be said for stepping away from the binary of clear mind versus fluctuating mind.  Instead, we can get curious about when our mental chatter is most active, and when it is able to quiet down.  One helpful framework is the pendulum.

ZOOM OUT

As we go through life, we tend to look forward to experiences like vacations, birthdays, and major accomplishments.  We dread more difficult events like job loss, break ups, and major setbacks.  If we zoom out, it’s clear that these events only occupy a small fraction of our time here on Earth.  Striving for happiness and joy based on these peak experiences is an uphill battle, especially since there’s often so much pressure during these short lived events they can fail to live up to expectations.  Furthermore, the pendulum framework offers perspective on the temporary nature of setbacks and difficulties.  What if we defined happiness as calm peaceful contentment regardless of the pendulum?

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THE PEAKS

An implication of the pendulum metaphor is that we take emphasis away from striving for exciting special events and give more focus to routines and patterns that enhance calm peaceful contentment.  This might look like developing a lovely morning routine involving the perfect coffee recipe, adopting a cat that likes to purr in your lap, or finding a walking path that has a nice view.  Acknowledging the pendulum and decreasing its fluctuations by focusing on calm peaceful contentment instead of peak experiences may offer relief from mental chatter.

I use the pendulum framework during therapy to offer perspective on our mental chatter.  Of course, it is wonderful to celebrate joyous occasions.  However, no amount of positive life events or accomplishments will quiet our “mental fluctuations”.  By giving ourselves space to learn what truly does quiet our minds, we gain access to greater freedom and peace.

If you need support to quiet your mental chatter, contact us at Kathryn Grooms & Associates Psychotherapy.