Minding our Awareness of Thought

Photography: Ferina Natasya Aziz Words: Tamara Kisha Tan

Photography: Ferina Natasya Aziz
Words: Tamara Kisha Tan

We held our second salon (and the first one of the year) at The Co. Duxton on 25 January 2018. The salon gathered folks from all walk of life to engage in ‘Conversations on Consciousness’. PAUSE is glad to have worked with lululemon Singapore to make this session a success.

PAUSE had the privilege of having four very esteemed experts on mind, body/fitness, nutrition and living, who lent their time to the discussion with the intention to share their wisdom with all of us present.  

They are, in order of speaking, as follows:

1) Milena Nguyen – Life-design & Women’s Empowerment coach
2) Myren Fu – lululemon ambassador & Director at G1RYA training centre
3) Lisa McConnell  – Functional Nutritional Therapist at Integrative Physio 
4) Stephanie Dickson  – Founder of Conscious Festival, Green is the New Black Asia

This report will cover what Milena shared with us about being conscious about the mind:

[Tamara Kisha – Editor, PAUSE Magazine]

Being conscious of the mind – briefly, what does this mean to you?

It means being aware of the thoughts we have and the effect they create in your life.

Thoughts lead to feelings lead to actions. For example, a thought like, “I am not a good speaker”, brings about a heightened state of anxiety - it leads you to forget what to say when you’re up there trying to address a crowd or give a presentation. This sudden lack of capability then serves to reaffirm the initial thought you had about yourself - resulting in cyclical thought process that obliterates your confidence and self-esteem. 

In fact, various studies show that we have 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts a day. 90% of them are repetitive thoughts and 85% of these repetitive thoughts are negative. It might sound absurd but this is true and begs the question of, where do these negative thoughts come from? 

These thoughts spring from a deep well of our most rooted beliefs. Our beliefs set the tone for every decision we make in life – most of us don’t even know this, but if you look into every decision you have made, you can trace it back to a certain deep belief that you harbour.

How much of being aware of what goes on in one’s mind, is really in our control?

In my opinion, we are completely in control. It is ultimately, a choice.

We can choose to be aware of our thoughts and transform negative thoughts by using methods such as meditation, mindfulness, emotional healing, affirmations, visualisation, hypnosis, and so on. There isn’t just one way to do this - it’s important to find what suits you, what works for you. 

Having said that, it’s certainly not easy. It takes willingness, focus, deliberation, effort and the accumulation of knowledge. But trust me, it’s worth the journey, because your thoughts create your life! Imagine that, an entire life predicated on how you think! Often people find it hard to embark on their journey toward changing their outlook on life - if this sounds like you, then I would highly recommend getting support from experts you can trust (life coaches, therapists, teachers etc.) to guide your through and accelerate the process.

How can we cultivate our habits such that we can be more deliberate about it?

Start with small steps. Start with the breath. Breathing is a life-giving action but most of us are completely oblivious to its powers. We breathe all the time and we just take it for granted. So my first tip would be to ask you to try to be aware of your breath as you go about your day.

The next advice would be to commit to adopting a daily mindfulness or meditation practice — 10 minutes (or even 3 minutes) is sufficient. It sounds like a short period, but you have no idea how it can revitalise your mind until you try it for yourself. 

The critical thing about meditation is: Don’t be too ambitious. You’ll just end up stressing yourself out about de-stressing :) Which of course, makes no sense. Tiny turtle steps work best for anyone starting out. Until it becomes part of your lifestyle, you will slip up and miss out on some meditation. Be forgiving for missing a day or two or even one whole week - just make sure that you gently keep coming back to your practice. 

If you feel lost or have no idea what to do, try to sign-up to practice meditation or any form of mindfulness regularly with a qualified teacher and a supportive circle / community. Change happens more easily when you’re around others with the same goals in mind.

What can do we in moments of emotional breakdown?

Breathe. Slow deep breaths help your mind understand that you’re not in real danger. So it stops flooding your body with stress hormones.

Next, feel your body. Emotions exist not in your head but your body - from the neck down! So ‘soften’ your body and let yourself slowly come to observe the physical sensations of emotion coursing through your entire physical body. 

Human beings are only capable of experiencing an intense feeling or an emotion for a maximum time of 90 seconds. (According to brain researcher Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, “A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey.) Therefore, you can only really be ‘anxious’ or ‘angry’ etc. for that length of time – after that, your anxiety or anger / emotion, is ‘self-manufactured’. Where is this manufactured? In your mind, through the flow of anxious or angry thoughts.

Next, make sure that you allow yourself to seek support from trusted friends, or professional therapist and life-coaches — especially if breakdowns happen regularly to you. It’s entirely possible that you may be going through high-functioning depression and you would want to take care of yourself. 

Even when we are not keenly ‘aware’ or ‘conscious’ of what goes on in our mind, we can still function. Some people call this being in ‘zombie mode’ etc. We can just about make it through each day, and for some people, it is all they have ever known. As a life-design coach specialising in guiding people toward a more conscious state of mind, is this in any way damaging to is in the long run? Because if it is not, then would there be a real impetus to become more conscious of what goes on in the mind?

Yes, zombie mode does exist. I like to refer to it as ‘survival mode’ – it’s what we all do to get by, whether it is at home or work or in our relationships. We are no longer engaging or being present anymore, but we know we have to keep functioning, so that is what we do. There is no right or wrong to this – it’s a very clichéd answer but that is the truth. At the end of the day, it is what is enough for you; not what other people tell you is enough, but what is truly good enough for you. However, from my experience, people who come to me in ‘chronic survival’ mode – all of them tell me that ‘something is missing.’ It is also why anxiety disorder is so prevalent now in modern society – it is not a coincidence. More people are going into survival mode, and they are not addressing it; they are not listening to how they feel or how their body is reacting. Chronic stress and chronic numbness leads to various health problems in the long run – anxiety, depression etc. and even can manifest into uncomfortable physical issues.

We all want more authenticity, love, joy, and purpose in life. Many mottos are going around, e.g., "Be Yourself", "Love Yourself", "Follow your Passion", "Live your Purpose", etc. Do you think being conscious of the mind can help us move towards those goals? How do you propose we look at this?

Being conscious of your thoughts can surely help you move towards those goals. The reason why these mottos are so ‘hot’ right now is because most of us have lost touch with our true selves. In fact, most of the beliefs we hold in our minds are not even ours. They are formed early in our childhood through the influences of our upbringing.

Since your thoughts are the source of everything that has taken place in your life, as I explained above, when your thoughts aren’t truly yours, you’ll end up living a life that doesn’t feel like it is yours at all. I’m sure a lot of people have felt this way at some point in their lives, as we often find ourselves living a life to please others. 

We also need to understand that change doesn’t happen overnight. These mottos are great to aspire toward, but if you’re expecting to find it after one round of meditation, that’s not going to happen. Change is a transformative and painful thing and it takes time (you can read more about my take on transformative change). It’s most probably why most people choose not to go through with it, and for those that do start, they often fail at the beginning. They don’t know how to start or progress and additionally, they don’t get enough support for themselves.

What I am going to share with is that there is a process – it goes from awareness to acceptance and then change can happen, achieving your goals can happen. Too often we try to get ourselves from the ‘awareness’ stage to the ‘change’ stage and we don’t even know that we have to first ‘accept’ where we are right now. We often think that where we are right now, is not enough. We think we are not enough. We constantly compare and think others are better than we are. But that is totally untrue – you are enough right now. You have the tools and the capacity to get you to where you want to be, where you desire to be – you only need to start on your journey towards that and understand and accept that it’s going to take time.

Love it or hate it, social media and technology is here to stay. It has found its way into almost every aspect of our lives. 90% of today's audience would not have been here if it weren’t for social media, so we have a lot to be thankful for. How mindless is social media binging in your opinion? Do we have to avoid doing it actively? Why do you think we are so quickly addicted to it? Does it rest the mind?

I have a home-use EEG machine called MUSE at home – I am a very pragmatic person and I want to be able to track my brainwaves when I am meditating and also when I am not, so that I can compare the results. So when I’m meditating my brainwaves are nice and calm and operating at the Alpha and Theta range, but when I scroll through Facebook or social media, the brainwaves immediately jump to Beta which is the range we use to make our daily decisions etc. So is social media a restful activity/good as a ‘pause’ or a break? I’m afraid that it is absolutely not. Social media is highly addictive. In fact, some studies show that ‘social media addiction’ is searched 3x as much on Google than ‘cigarette addiction’ – psychology has proven this as well. Of course, I’m not saying that we have to avoid it altogether because that is not possible in this day and age, but we have to be careful about how much we engage with it; we have to notice when we are merely going on social media for the wrong reasons.

Examples of conscious ways of resting the mind?
i.e. how can we get ourselves to choose meditation over social media binging?

As mentioned, I cannot emphasise the importance of breath awareness.

My favourite practice is what I call the ‘10 second meditation’. In the middle of a stressful day when you have too much on your plate, you can definitely find the time to pause for 10 seconds and just focus on your breath. You can also choose to take slow walks in nature, or turn on some calming music and let your body groove to the tunes - you can do this alone in your bedroom and literally dance like no one is watching. Be free. Do anything you want to ‘get out of your mind’ and ‘into your body’, while being aware of your own breath. 

*Milena Nguyen is a life-design and women’s empowerment coach. She also is an amazing PAUSE Guide, and is passionate about helping people find their truth and realise their purpose in life. She has written a book on long-distance relationships, started an online guidance school for female millennials, spoken at three TEDx talks and constantly travels the world to spread her knowledge about self-love, navigating relationships and uncovering one’s full potential. You can get to know her better at milenanguyen.com or send us any related question you’d like to direct to her here