When you’re living with a healthy body, you don’t have to think much about your body. You can fall asleep or wake up when you need to be awake or asleep. You can eat a variety of foods and stay nourished and energized. You can move easily and use your body for activities you enjoy. You can decide whether you want to use substances to alter your consciousness and in what quantity. Your relationship with your body isn’t a relationship you have to spend much time on. It’s a relationship you live in, rather than work on.
Living with a healthy mind is similar. With a healthy mind, you can choose what you attend to and what you ignore. You can perceive all kinds of information from your environment and then make conscious decisions about how you want to respond. You can experience sensations, feelings, and thoughts, accept their existence, and either redirect your attention away from them or use them as data to inform your decisions. You get to decide what you think is valuable and meaningful and how you want to act on that which is valuable and meaningful to you. Like a relationship with a healthy body, your relationship with your mind becomes one that you live in and from, rather than one you work on.
If you are suffering because of what occurs in your mind, you need to work on it until you don’t need to work on it. You’ll be able to tell when you don’t need to work on it anymore.
Mental suffering starts as avoidance. We’re still in a spot in culture where the nature of emotions is not well understood by most people and most of us immediately resist uncomfortable private experiences (that is, thoughts, feelings, and sensations), rather than immediately accepting them. When you have a lot of private experiences that you think you shouldn’t be having and you try to avoid them or push them away, you will have more and more of them.
The degree to which we respond effectively or ineffectively to our private experiences is a spectrum, not a binary category. Because these moments are private and many of the ways that people cope is also private, it almost impossible to get a good read on how others are coping compared to yourself. It’s especially hard to tell what other people are doing well when they do it well.
Eventually, I want you to get to a point where you know your mind so well that you aren’t surprised or afraid of any of your sensations, feelings, or thoughts. Once you’re there, you won’t have to work on your relationship with your mind. Like a great friendship or romantic partnership, you and your mind will know each other. All the uncertainties of new ideas and experiences become fun. Getting there isn’t one moment where you did your exposure homework correctly. Its thousands of moments of turning towards yourself with openness and curiosity until that just becomes the way you think.