Broken-Record Thoughts and the Five Kleshas

Text: Nicole Schnackenberg | Illustration: Ingrid Sanchez

Our minds often have a few favourite phrases they like to use over and over again. The choice of words might be slightly different, the syntax somewhat re-ordered, but the general message is the same. Many of us have been walking around with these broken-record messages since early childhood, often without questioning whether or not they are rooted in any semblance of truth.

The mind might say ‘I’m not good enough’, for example, and we don’t even stop to consider that this might be untrue. Hear this a few million times over a number of years (and this is by no means an exaggeration) and suddenly it becomes ingrained into every single aspect of our lives. The thought then becomes self-fulfilling, creating a reality in which everything we do seems to fall short of being good enough. This is why we so frequently repeat the pain of our childhood as adults, feeling perhaps ashamed and then subconsciously inviting this shame into our lives in order to have some external means of addressing it. These patterns will keep repeating themselves until we have understood that we are good as we are, until we have assimilated the truth that guilt and shame have absolutely no place in our lives.

The patterns in our lives which repeat themselves again and again are not some cruel joke delivered to us by an uncaring universe. This is simply the way of things, the structure of our physical reality, the basic law of cause and effect. By becoming mindful of our thoughts we can break these patterns and begin to shift our understanding of who we truly are.

We can begin to move beyond the shackles of these cyclical thoughts by bringing them into full consciousness. So many of our minds are filled with so much clutter that finding the true thoughts about ourselves is like looking for diamonds in the dust. We de-clutter by noticing those broken-record thoughts, the judging thoughts that come up again and again whenever they get the chance to do so.

These cluttering thoughts have so often been borrowed from what somebody else said to us. We are called to start with just one of these thoughts. Each time we notice this surreptitious thought emerging, we simultaneously put the full light of our attention onto it. We do not resist it. Instead, we slow it down and stay with it, completely non-judgementally. We look for any emotions behind the words and become immersed in this emotion, again without judgement. If we do this often enough, the thought will begin to diminish.

In the yogic tradition, we talk about five kleshas or obstacles to peace in our lives; abhinivesha (fear), asmita (false identity), raga (attachment), dvesha (aversion) and avidya (ignorance). Our broken-record thoughts will always be rooted in one of more of these kleshas. The klesha bracelet exercise can be a really useful mindfulness tool when we are attempting to weed out our self-destructive thoughts. The idea is to place a bracelet on your wrist and to move it across to the other wrist each time you notice your chosen klesha of the day coming into your awareness. Or you may choose to focus on one particular thought each day or for a number of days, moving the bracelet from one wrist to the other each time it arises in your mind. My thought for today, for example, was based on asmita and went something like this; “I need to be successful in my career in order to be worthy”. Each time I noticed this thought arising in my mind, I slowly and deliberately moved my bracelet across to the other wrist and stayed consciously with it. On each occasion without fail, I was able to see through this thought and return to a place of peace and stillness within.

Perhaps now is the time to become pilots of our minds instead of captives of it. Maybe then we can become filled with only authentic and loving thoughts about ourselves and others.

Consider giving the klesha bracelet a go…and feel free to comment below on how you got on with it.

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