I don’t know about you but I find it hard to practice daily mindfulness. “Just imagine your thoughts are leaves floating down the river!” “Just observe without judging!” “Just meditate for 15 minutes each day!”
Aghhh. I know this is all well intentioned advice. But there are some days that it just. doesn’t work. These things are good for when you are having a good mental health day. But when you are feeling really down or anxious, they just aren’t going to cut it.
I was having a day like this recently, and all of a sudden I had an epiphany. I was thinking about how our brains (or our minds) sometimes go haywire. We can try as hard as we want, but it’s as though our thoughts are being driven by some inner force. This could be poor brain chemistry or something else, but the end result is that we are constantly battling our brains.
And I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be nice just for once to stop letting my messed up brain have control of what I’m doing?
But how can I do that? I thought. Who’s going to keep me on track? Who’s going to fly the plane?
That’s when it hit me.
Flights never just have a pilot. That would be ridiculously dangerous. They have a co-pilot on board to take over the controls in case something happens to the pilot.
And I thought to myself: Could I let an imaginary co-pilot take control until my brain (the pilot) gets back on track?
I started to imagine the co-pilot during this stressful time that the pilot was incapacitated. He had to be calm and steady, focused on flying the plane to safety. Whatever was wrong with the pilot, he couldn’t rely on him anymore. He took control of the plane and made sure the pilot did not have control.
And it worked! I found every time my mind started to slip into crazy anxious thinking, I handed it over to the co-pilot who was calm and focused.
Let’s take a look at how you can use the co-pilot metaphor to practice daily mindfulness.
Let the Co-Pilot Takeover
The first step is to let the co-pilot take over. Imagine your brain as the pilot who has become incapcitated for some reason. Now, imagine that the co-pilot has taken over and only has the ability for calm and rational thought. Let the co-pilot reason through the situation you are facing.
View the Pilot as Outside of Yourself
As you start to visualize the co-pilot, imagine seeing the pilot (your brain or your thoughts) as separate. You’re no longer at the mercy of the anxious thoughts you’ve ben having, because the co-pilot is now in control. Your thoughts and you are not inseperable. You can take a step back and see the pilot for what he is at the moment: not helpful.
Realize That It’s Only a Short Flight
I think one of the reasons this worked so well is that it helped me view the situation that I was in as transient, just like an airplane flight. If you can picture a situation as temporary, and that you only need to step in as the co-pilot for a short time, it will be much easier to manage. The co-pilot can be calm, cool, and collected because he knows that he just needs to land the plane.
Learn to Step Back and Laugh
I started to even take this a step further: What if the pilot was inebriated? What if he was being belligerant?
As the co-pilot you might be frustrated, or you might even start to see the pilot for who he was. You’d see that the pilot should not always be blindly trusted, and you might even start to find the whole thing humourous.
You can do the same thing with your negative thoughts. Can you see the humor in the fact that you need to take control because your brain has gone haywire?
I promise if you get to that point, it will help you to relax and not get so hung up on what your brain is telling you.
Now, you have a unique strategy to pratice daily mindfulness. Anytime you find yourself spinning out of control mentally, let the co-pilot take over and guide the plane until you land safely. Know that you always have his back-up and that you don’t have to let your brain run the show if it’s doing a bad job.
I’d love to hear what other types of metaphors you use to practice daily mindfulness. Feel free to share them in the comments.