How to Stop Worrying with Mindfulness Meditation
By David Stringham
Generally speaking, mindfulness meditation provides us with tools that guide us to its benefits—increased happiness, health, and peace. One of the most powerful tools of mindfulness meditation is learning to listen to and understand the inner workings of our own minds. You might even call this understanding of self through mindfulness an innerstanding.
Developing knowledge of one’s self is a great endeavor, but to make the pursuit more manageable, we can divide it into smaller tasks. A great place to start is to learn of and understand the specific moods and automatic process of our cognition. These processes, when left unobserved, seem to give our minds “minds of their own” and determine our emotional states without our conscious consent.
When we begin to understand the automatic mental processes that run in the background of our minds, we’ve accomplished the first step toward taking direct control of these processes and changing their outcomes.
Papancha is a special word for one such mental process that can overwhelm our awareness, often with unwanted negative thoughts, unless we become aware of it and keep it in check. Mindfulness, like with so many other inner workings, makes it possible to clear the papancha that blocks us from experiencing the present moment.
What Papancha Means
The word papancha, which comes from the Tibetan language, has no direct translation in English. One Tibetan scholar translates papancha as “an eruption of mental commentary that obscures the raw data of cognition.” Let’s explore that definition a bit more. Here are two everyday examples of papancha:
Let’s say that it’s nearing the time of day when your spouse or significant other is usually on their way home from work. The minutes on the clock tick by one after another, and instead of arriving home at the usual time, you instead receive a text message from them.
The text message only says, “Something came up. Gonna be late.” Your significant other is rarely late coming home and only rarely texts you, usually preferring a more-personal phone call. A text message this brief is also well out of the ordinary.
Suddenly your mind, seemingly on its own, bursts forth with a flurry of worries, doubts, and fears. What could possibly be the cause of this break from routine? Did they get pulled over on the way home? Are they held up at work because of a problem? Are they getting fired? Or even worse, are they having an affair?
This is papancha: I imagine that most people reading this realize that it’s something we all experience on a regular basis.
The negative commentary has a tendency to escalate quickly and without any grounding in reality, or the actual sensory input that we are receiving. If the relationship in this example were a strained one or experiencing difficulties, the person’s papancha would likely lend itself even more easily to these negative cognitive leaps.
Of course, the significant other, in the vast majority of cases, eventually comes home, and it is revealed that the holdup was caused by something quite ordinary and benign, despite our papancha’s superb ability to catastrophize almost anything.
However, panpancha’s mental commentary isn’t always negative commentary. Here’s another example to illustrate that.
Similar to the first example, you receive an unexpected text message, but this time from a close friend who has been struggling with a serious and chronic health issue. The text reads, “Call me. I have great news!”
You are tied up at the moment and won’t be able to call back for some time. Your papancha’s imagination runs wild. Are they feeling well today? Did their insurance coverage finally come through? Or even better, have they had a breakthrough in their condition? A cure!
Once you get your friend on the line, you feel a little silly when they reveal that their excitement was unrelated to the health issues that instantly dominated your cognition when you received their text.
The Problem with Papancha
Whether the mental commentary produced by papancha is positive or negative doesn’t matter. The end result is always a negative one in terms of your ability to live in the moment.
In both examples above, even the example of positive papancha, the person’s mind is disconnected from the realities of the present moment as soon as the papancha begins. The raw data of their experience is hidden under the veil of unchecked thoughts that are jumping to unfounded conclusions in the future.
For example, and referring to Example 1 above, what is the raw data of the experience there? It is only this: that the person received a text message from their significant other saying that something came up and that they’ll be late coming home from work. That’s it! And until more information comes in, a mindful mind would allow itself to stop there.
Just from that, can you see how being mindful of papancha and stopping it before it begins has the potential to ease a great deal of self-inflicted suffering? Even in the case of positive papancha commentary, we experience an unnecessary (and illusionary) sense of loss when we discover that reality doesn’t support our hopeful cognitive bounds. We can avoid all of these negative effects of papancha with the help of mindfulness meditation.
How to Clear Papancha with Mindfulness Meditation
The steps to clear papancha through mindfulness are quite simple, and you’ve already begun to accomplish the first step just by reading this post! Here are the steps:
- Become aware of your papancha: Of course, awareness of papancha is the first step in your mindfulness work to clear it.
- Put it on pause the next time it happens: Try to recognize it the next time it begins in your mind. It may be difficult at first, as papancha tends to have the greatest hold on us when our fears and other emotions are the highest.
- Evaluate the mental commentary: Once you’ve put the papancha on hold, take a moment to analyze the commentary. Is it rational? Is it connected to the present? Is it helping you feel how you want to feel?
- Revise the commentary: By answering the questions in step three, you will know how to change the conversation in your mind to your benefit. Referring again to Example 1 above, this revision step might result in acknowledging that you are simply worried about the break in routine and had begun to jump to conclusions. You are now accessing the raw data of your cognition.
- Keep practicing: Just repeat these steps each time papancha begins to take hold. It will get easier and easier to clear with each effort.
Far more often than not, the fears and projections that we invent never actually happen, and essentially are a waste of our energy when we entertain them or allow them to entertain themselves.
Because of the ancient tradition of mindfulness meditation, we have a guide to avoid this kind of imaginary pain, and focus our thoughts and energies on more important (and real) things and events that can enrich our experience, rather than take away from it.
David Stringham is a personal coach and counselor who instructs clients in the practice of mindfulness meditation as a way to help create a steady foundation from which to do productive inner work. His unique approaches bring creativity, patience, and authenticity to his sessions—all of which are natural extensions of the way he lives his own life. Learn more at http://stillwater-counseling.com.
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