I am learning how to notice my moods better, and if my state of mind is unwholesome, I will look at what my thoughts are doing. And like a shepherd guarding his sheep, I try to steer them back in the right direction, towards the wholesome. Towards non-greed, non-hatred, non-delusion.
I use the word 'non' because there are many wholesome mind states that are not greed, hate, or delusion. And it is helpful to have many wholesome states to choose from. It can be tiring to feel kind, loving, or joyful all the time, and that's alright, because there are other wholesome states one can cultivate and use instead. It is good to have a wide palette to choose from and experiment with.
If my thoughts have strayed into the territory of greed, hate, and delusion, depending on the mood I am in, steering them away from those fields, can be as simple as interrupting the herd of thoughts with a gentle nudge, whereupon they will immediately stop what they are doing and happily go back in the right direction.
Other times it can involve the need to talk the thoughts into wanting to go back in the right direction, which means learning ways of talking to myself that helps to change the state of mind I am in, this sometimes results in me giving myself a dhamma talk, or writing an article like this. Or if I am not feeling I can do anything like that, I will use the voice of another, ( i.e. listen to a dhamma talk, a podcast, read an article or book) and use their voice to talk me into a better state of mind.
But there are times when my thoughts can be racing and chaotic. And then it is like trying to shepherd a stampeding herd of buffalo. On those occasions I will practise something I dub the megaphone technique.
Named after scenes in movies where there's a crowd of people all talking loudly and at once. Perhaps they are excited about something, or argueing over this and that, perhaps they're panicking. Someone then walks into the middle of the group with a megaphone and makes it squeek loudly and everyone suddenly stops talking and turns to face the person with the megaphone.
My megaphone is to attempt to become aware of all the bodily sensations happening at once in the present moment, and flood the mind with these sense impressions, and keep bringing my attention back to this experience, so that I am constantly interrupting the thought processes with this sensory overload. It can work, and help bring some relief and composure back to the mind.
There are other megaphones that also work, some are gentle, such as surrounding myself with the colour red, yellow, or blue, like an aura. Some soothing like paying attention to the air element, or water element, the solidity of earth, the warmth and energy of the body, or just being aware of my feet, hands, or any part of the body that feels better than being in the head.
It's basically just something to distract the mind and help it settle into a more tranquil state and regain some composure. Tranquility is a wholesome state of mind. One can be creative with this. These examples are just things that work for me, everyone should experiment and find what helps them. It is our subjective experience that matters here, forget about trying to make it fit in with any scientific theory, this exercise isn't about that. It is about taking what comes naturally to us, and making it into something supernatural.
Sometimes the thoughts don't respond well to anything, so I will let them continue in the background, but choose not to let them bother me, I become unattached to them. I choose not to judge them, not to follow them or identify with them. Just let them be, like background noise, and choose to place my attention on something else that is happening in awareness, something in the present moment that helps bring some peace and composure back to the mind, and then I can focus on a task at hand better without feeling harrassed by the thought processes.
The ability to choose where we place our attention is something we can all learn. And it is an aspect of the mind we can have some control over. It is also useful to learn how to tune the energy of attention so it is neither too forceful, nor too lax. Like cupping a little bird in your hand, if you cup it too tightly it will hurt the bird; but if you cup it too loosely it will fly away. How do you make attention comfortable and stable. How do you get into a flow? How do you keep the mind interested in something so that attention wants to stay there willingly and not want to be anywhere else? That's the questions we have to ask ourselves if we want to train the mind.
It is challenging, so remember to cut yourself some slack. Try not to compare yourself with others, be okay with where you're at in your practise. Don't judge others or yourself when failure happens, which it will. And if another judges you, just remember that other people's practise is their practise. Some people have been at this a while and are advanced. Others are just starting out. We are all at different levels, and that's okay, let others be where they're at, and concentrate on your own practice. Go at your own pace. Be comfortable with where you're at. That is where you come from and meet the world. Development is a gradual process, and that's okay, it isn't a race, nobody gets extra brownie points for getting there before anyone else, the prize at the end, nibanna, is exactly the same experience for everyone. If you persevere in a way that doesn't stress or break the mind, you will get there, in your own time, in a way that works for you. It is important not to strain the mind, to take care of it, rest it, nurture it, to be gentle, be kind to it, a friend, it is not your enemy, it is where you live. If you are making progress you are making progress. Whether that progress is fast or slow doesn't matter. Enlightenment is not a race or a competition. It is a gift that you give to yourself, and noone else can give it to you. Others can guide you, share their wisdom, but the onus is on you to do the work, noone else can.