When I was in my early twenties my mind was kind of a mess. I had never thought about the state of my mind because I was busy graduating high school, getting into college, dealing with college, and then getting a job.
Then one day when I was about twenty-five I read a book called “The Practice of Happiness”. It mixed Buddhism with psychology and taught that emotions can start up internally and be completely independent from outside circumstances.
I read a section of the book about happiness (complete with a diagram about emotions and mindfulness) and something clicked. I put the book down and went for a walk. I just walked to a local gas station, bought a hot chocolate, and sat and drank it on a bench. It was nothing special but at the same time I was the happiest I’d ever been.
That blissed-out twenty minutes or so taught me that mind training is extremely important to my wellbeing. Since then I’ve started to pay much more attention to what is going on in my mind. That’s been a crazy journey all on it’s own.
The Great Divide
In college I was trained as a nurse. Some classes were about ‘mental health’ and some were about ‘physical health’. We learned about psych disorders in some classes, and then we learned about diseases that affect the body in the other classes. We spent minimal (if any) time talking about how the two go together.
Since then (I graduated in 2007) the landscape has changed and I’ve heard more and more about the mind/body connection. It’s hard to ignore the fact that what goes on in our minds is intricately connected to the state of our body. The effect that stress has on the body is a really simple example of that: a stressful situation leads to more cortisol in the body. Yet lots of our health and wellbeing practices are still stuck with the old great divide: mental health vs. physical health.
We’re also stuck with this framework, I think, when it comes to talking about wellness. Meditation, mindfulness, talk therapy, journaling, and spiritual practice might go under the category of “mind wellbeing” while treatments for the body like exercise programs, PT, massage, and nutrition are considered caring for the body.
I think that because the body is tangible we spend a lot more time and energy taking care of it. It’s easy to look in the mirror and see that you’re gaining weight, for example, which might make you feel like you need to step up your physical training. Or, you might feel pain in your lower back, and so you make an appointment for a massage. Our mind’s landscape isn’t so in your face. It’s easy to ignore the signs and symptoms of a mind in need of TLC.
Since we can’t see what’s going on internally, it’s tempting to put mind training on the back-burner. It’s even possible to forget about it altogether when life gets busy and other priorities get in the way.
In my experience, though, prioritizing mind training is the best thing I can do for my well being. Taking care of my mind makes a huge difference in the quality of life, and is just as important as taking care of my body.
“All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him.” --Buddha
For that reason I’ll share mind training strategies here in these posts regularly. I’m fascinated with mind training. What about you? Do you feel like we divide mind wellbeing and body wellbeing? Do you notice that you put mind training on the back burner sometimes, just because it’s not tangible? Leave a comment below.
The Practice of Happiness: Mirco Fryba