Defusing from Thoughts

In my last post I referred to the flaw in our minds through which we become entangled in anxious, depressing, obsessional thoughts. In this post I explore ways we can disentangle from them.

The time-honoured approach is that of Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy, in which we identify the thought, write it down and hammer it with facts, logic and counter-evidence. Exposing it for the nonsense that it is. A simpler, but similar approach is The Work, developed by Byron Katie in which you go beyond the thought by addressing four questions to it:

Is that thought true?

Can you absolutely know that it is true?

What happens to you when you hold that thought?

Who will you be without that thought?

Both these approaches work well for the majority of people, as I can testify from years of using both.

Another approach that can work well is based on the Stop technique, in which you yell the thought out of your head (either out loud or between your ears). Or breathe it out. Or visualise a stop sign on it. An amusing variation on this theme is described in F*ck It: The Ultimate Spiritual Way, by John Parkin. That way uses the f-word every time you catch yourself processing judgments that you know are doing you no good. It works because using the bad word is aggressive on your internal critic or inner defeatist.

One limitation on all these approaches is that hammering the thought may not be enough; you still have to find something else to do to fill up the space in your head left vacant. Otherwise, the thought will most likely come back at you. As well as that you will also have to develop a replacement thought that works better for you and design some behaviours that will take you in your chosen direction. That’s one reason why cognitive therapists in the 1970s decided to tag on the ‘behavioural’ bit in their job description, recognising that ultimately change comes about when you change your behaviour, not your thoughts.

Over years of working with these disorders I came to the conclusion that the problem lies deeper than problematic thoughts. That it comes, in fact, from our wrong relationship with the mind, as I wrote in the previous article. This conclusion was delightfully supported when I came across Acceptance & Commitment Therapy (ACT) a few years ago. This simple, elegant approach bypasses problematic thoughts altogether.

The entire approach is based on building mindfulness. When we acquire the art of staying in present moment awareness, without judgment, we are then in a position to watch thoughts come and go without getting entangled by them. Exercising acceptance and curiosity, we can observe them for the kind of thoughts that they are: worries, exaggerations, obsessions, catastrophic predictions, self-judgments, etc. Avoiding fusion with those thoughts and taking the decision to try a different path. Then using a defusion technique to seal the decision.

There are dozens of ways to defuse, but here are a few that I teach:

The Bus

Imagine that you are at a bus stop and a bus comes along with the thought on its destination board. The bus comes to a stop in front of you and the doors open as the driver waits for you to board. You decide not to get on that bus today and wait for another. The doors close and the bus departs without you. You wait for a few moments and another bus draws up; this one with a different destination. ‘Self-fulfilment‘, for example. Boarding that bus you look forward to exploring all the ways in which you can pursue rewarding activities during the day ahead.

The Stream

You are on a boat floating down a stream on a warm summer’s day. Enjoying the sun, the peace, the cool water. To one side of you some leaves (or toy boats) are floating by. Some of these have those unwanted thoughts sketched on them. You watch them float by behind you, out of consciousness. On the other side new leaves/boats come floating by, with thoughts reminding you of some of the things you can achieve that day. You pick up one of these and focus on what you will do next.

The Beach Ball

Here you are in the sea in shallow water that comes up to your waist. You are holding down a beach ball in the water and on the ball is one of those pesky thoughts. Releasing your hands, you watch as the ball rebounds over your head behind you. You swim back to shore and focus on the day ahead.

The Mountain

You are a high mountain (alternative: you are sitting on the peak). The earth is far below and you are mindful of the peace and freedom around you. Further down the slopes clouds come and go and some of these contain unwanted thoughts. You watch as they pass by and are vaporised in the sun.

The Chatterbox.

This technique is described here.

The final step, still staying out of Junkmind, is to refocus on an activity that you associate with the things most dear to you: your work (if applicable), relationships, family, home, creative projects, health, etc. Ensuring that the activity you choose is capable of bearing your whole-hearted attention.

Summary. Defusion works when you are no longer in bondage to the illusion that your mind is a repository of truth. Exercising care and selection before allowing a thought into consciousness. Bypassing the thoughts that do not serve you and committing to the thoughts, desires and activities that reflect the healthy side of your mind.

In the next article I will discuss how to defuse from unwanted feeling states like anxiety and depression.

7 keys to Mindfulness

Mindfulness as a word can be misleading as it does not mean a mind which is filled with thoughts. Instead it refers to present-moment awareness. It is a state in which you are focused on what is happening to you in the now. The focus could be on external events such as sights and sounds, or on your sensations and feelings. In fact most forms of meditation, including Transcendental Meditation (TM) are types of Mindfulness. Mindfulness can also be achieved through Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and the like. Recorded tapes are the most common aid to the practice of Mindfulness.

Here are seven key words and phrases associated with Mindfulness:

Continue reading

The Buddha and Psychotherapy

After Siddhartha Gautama was enlightened he became the Buddha. Before that time he had been first a great prince and then, after his renunciation, a wandering monk. His aim was to uncover the secret of suffering and find enlightenment. He tried several teachers, starved himself close to death, practised self-torture and meditation, but none of these worked. In despair he decided to sit under a Bo tree, not leaving until he had found either enlightenment or death. Four weeks later it came to him in the night. He ‘saw’ into the ultimate nature of reality: that it was without names, time or permanence. He realised that he was it and it he.

A few weeks after that he gave his first sermon in the Deer Park at Sarnath to five disciples. He told them that he had discovered that everything that arises is subject to cessation, including suffering. The path to enlightenment lay in the Four Noble Truths:

1.   Know that there is dukkha

2.   Understand the origin of dukkha in attachment

3.   Let go of attachment and dukkha

4.   Follow the Eight-fold path

Continue reading

The philosophy of the bleedin’ obvious

This is the third and final article in the series on religion.

Let me start this one with a story about one of my spiritual heroes.

When Krishnamurti was 14 it was ‘discovered’ that he was a kind of ‘Messiah’ (despite the fact that his new worshippers thought he had ‘a slightly moronic look’). He was brought up by the Theosophists and prepared for his future career as the New World Teacher. He became the centre of a cult.

But when he was 34 he gave it all up. Telling his followers that he was not a teacher, not a guru, and that there was not even such a thing as religion. In fact he told them a story about the Devil:

“The devil and a friend of his were
walking down the street, when they saw a man pick up something from the ground, look at it, and put it away in his pocket. The friend said to the devil, ‘What did that man pick up?’ ‘He picked up a piece of the truth,’ said the devil. ‘That is a very
bad business for you, then,’ said his friend. ‘Oh, not at all,’ the devil replied, ‘I am going to help him organize it [into a new religion].”

For Krishnamurti ‘truth is a pathless land.’ No one can guide another towards the truth, it has to be earned for yourself. He said:

“I do not want followers, and I mean this. The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth. I am not concerned whether you pay attention to what I say or not. I want to do a certain thing in the world and I am going to do it with unwavering concentration. I am concerning myself with only one
essential thing: to set man free. I desire to free him from all cages,
from all fears, and not to found religions, new sects, nor to establish
new theories and new philosophies.”

Now Krishnamurti spent the next 56 years of his life (he died in 1986) as a sort of anti-guru teaching only one thing: Awareness.

That’s it: nothing else. Just Awareness. And its right there in the teachings of Buddha and Christ: just sit on your bum and train your awareness on what’s going on right now.

Here are some of the things I have learned about Awareness.

  • It is not detachment. You are still involved in experience but you are also aware of how and what you do when you are in it.
  • Awareness is not thinking. Awareness notices thoughts come up and waits for them to process and then go away.
  • It does not require meditation (in fact, some types of meditation – the ones that try to ’empty the mind’ just get in the way).
  • Awareness means witnessing everything that happens to you, without
    interfering in the flow of events. You observe how you move, how you
    walk, how you eat, how you talk.
  • Practicing Awareness makes you intensely aware of your living in the moment – now.
  • You also become more emotional, not less.
  • States of joy, peace and serenity, become more and more ‘normal’.
  • Worry becomes hard to do.
  • As you develop Awareness you cease to live in the past and in the future.
  • You become more and more grounded, centred in your body,
  • You also become increasingly averse to words like ‘God’, ‘Love’, ‘Human existence’, ‘Fate’, ‘Heaven’, etc.
  • Suffering becomes more bearable – you are aware that that experience, too, will pass.
  • Because the practice of Awareness makes you less intolerant, and less judgmental, you become more and loving and compassionate towards others.
  • Once in a while this state of Awareness opens up and expands – and for a split-second you go into a God-like state of consciousness (sorry, I can’t really explain it better than that – the whole thing is beyond words). It is utterly blissful.

“Do not try to become anything.
Do not make yourself into anything.
Do not be a meditator.
Do not become enlightened.
When you sit, let it be.
When you walk, let it be.
Grasp at nothing.
Resist nothing.
And if you haven’t wept deeply, you haven’t even begun to meditate.”

Ajhan Chah

Binaural beats

This is the second in the series on binaural beats – audio programs that change brain states.

The outcome is a change in physical or emotional state combined with a change in consciousness. That’s one of our major goals in Reverse Therapy.

Using them we can switch off worries, connect to Bodymind, create deep trance, or trigger endorphin release.

Binaural beat programs work by entraining the brain to slow down brain wave frequencies. The everyday state – the one in which Headmind is most active – is Beta. The next slowest wave is Alpha (the state that occurs when we are just nodding off to sleep, or are in trance). Beyond that we have the Theta state, which occurs in deep sleep or profound meditation.

Theta waves were first studied in the 1970s and it was noticed that using equipment to produce Theta wave states produced serenity, reduced the need for sleep, cut out anxiety, boosted the immune system, enhanced creativity, and helped integrate the emotions. In addition, it is impossible to worry or get anxious so long as the Theta state is in operation.

Interestingly, Japanese research, which studied brain scans of Zen monks – showed that
experienced meditators can actually switch down to the Theta wave in minutes.

Now binaural programs are able to create the same benefits without the need to spend years practicing meditation.

I have been testing two of these programs and recommend them both.

If you want to try them for yourself then use the links below.

Deeper and Deeper’ CD Download

‘Endorphin Release’ CD Download