Restlessness is not an emotion. It’s a state of mind that can trigger emotions of varying levels and is often associated with situations whenever something different is about to happen. It is manifested in both past as well as in the future, and depending on the situation, its magnitude and affect on our mind can vary. For instance, when we sit for meditation and close our eyes, thoughts start popping up straightway that make us feel restless. If you are someone who has recently started meditating, your back may feel sore, your morning commitments may surface, the list of emails you “may” have to respond to, or maybe all of these thoughts combined will pop-up out of nowhere. You can either give up to these thoughts by drifting away from your practise, or you can swiftly acknowledge the thought, its underlying nature and return back to your practise. Nevertheless, one thing is for certain. That is, the more you are associated with achieving your goals rather than improving your habits, restlessness will be there and you will be constantly creating more friction in your life.
In my previous blog, I had talked about how mediation can create a change in the way we go on living our lives by inspiring us to remain present. I had discussed how resistance to the present moment creates friction and becomes responsible for various negative emotions like fear and anxiety. We ended by drawing a co-relation between the mind and the blue sky. So let’s continue from the same point where we had left.
In this blog and from now onwards, in every blog that I write, I will make efforts to explore different kind of “situations” a human mind experiences and ways through which we can “deal” with them. And what better way to start from trying to locate the very source of these emotions? “Thoughts”, and let’s explore how a restless mind is connected with them.
Restlessness Manifested in the Past
Imagine that it’s 31st of December and you are sitting to write your new year resolutions. For a starter, you will introspect about your past year and identify what mistakes you made this year that you don’t want to repeat next year. You realise that there have been a plethora of bad habits that you need to get rid of and you start feeling restless. This restlessness eventually paves way for creation of an ambitious new year resolution that primarily comprises of “goals” with strict deadlines. Fast forward three months and you start missing your deadlines. Restlessness creeps in and you start getting “worried” about ending this year in the same manner in which you finished your last year. The constant discouragement resulting from not being able to stick to your goals creates restlessness and manifests in the form of thoughts exuding emotions like “self-pity” and “remorse”, which can even lead to depression in some cases.
The reality is, that the moment we say that human mind is meant to think constantly, we make restlessness a part of being human. We tend to believe that the only mind that is not restless is the one that is not physically functional. This state can be attributed to either a dead person or a “brain dead” person in technical medical terms. But the truth is far from it. If we observe the pattern of our thoughts rooted in the past, we will start realising various underlying emotions that emerge from this restlessness like “regret”, self-pity, remorse, etc. which requires a constant stream of negative thoughts to keep it alive. If the level of restless is higher, more acute and long sustaining emotions like “guilt”, “jealousy” and “sadness” may occur. But the core reason remains the same. Identification of this pattern at the very initial stage is the solution which I will talk about after we have discussed the second form of manifestation.
Restlessness Manifested in the Future
While I am writing this blog, there is a constant repetition of thoughts “reminding” me of the deadline to make the submission to the publisher by the end of the day. Unlike restlessness rooted in the past, this form of restlessness is much more common and is responsible to pretty dominant sort of emotions like anxiety, fear and worry
Whether it is a student preparing for an examination, a farmer waiting for the monsoons or an aspiring candidate set to appear for an interview, this form of restlessness is pretty common and maybe sometimes even necessary. However, the problem occurs when irrespective of our past experiences with similar situations, our mind tends to create narratives about that may go wrong. Since the event is yet to happen, any outcome is possible and based on its experiences, our mind will create one thought after the other, making it difficult to stay present. It’s a very usual sort of a “mind-situation” that finds its existence in perfectly possible scenarios, but have no sanctity in the present moment.
It happens because we are always planning to “reach” somewhere. And if we are off track, we tend to become unconscious. The basic reason behind this off roading is that we are actually interested in achieving the goals, but the “reward” that will come after we have achieved the goal. We try to get in shape so that others feel good about us; we want to earn more money so that society can respect us; we want to procreate so that our children can take care of us when we are old, etc. But unless we identify the problems in our goals and the rewards associated with them, there is no way we can possibly think about being more mindful.
This term denotes a state of restless mind independent of any past or future event. In other words, there are situations when we feel restless even when there is nothing special going to happen in the future or noting unusually weird has happened in the past. This is one of the most unique situations we as humans may have to deal with. We often experience this when we are trying to relax or when we are aware that all the things from our to-do list have been marked as done but there is still some kind of “longingness”, a void that keeps creeping in.
We all have been victim of this sort of situation but I realised it after I experienced it myself recently. Not that I haven’t experienced it before, I must have, but since I have been trying to observe my thoughts, this kind of restlessness is something that juggles between past and future both constantly as well as intermittently. But one thing is for sure, it has no sanctity in the present moment and after days of observation, it automatically subdued.
This brings me to the next point of discussion about what we can do to subdue restlessness without fighting it or trying to run away from it?
Breaking the Wheels of Restless Chariot
So how do we cure restlessness? Well, we can’t. However, we can mitigate its effect by becoming a watcher of our own thoughts. The moment we start noticing these thoughts, we start to understand a pattern that is associated with it. You don’t need to be a neurologist or a psychologist to understand this. Mere observation of thoughts is enough to notice this restlessness and trust me, an unconscious mind doesn’t likes to be noticed. Meditation is an excellent tool to break the cycle of unconsciousness created due to restlessness. There are many other tools as well. The overall point is that the moment you break this pattern, you experience a state of “No-mind”, as put forth by Prof Eckhart Tolle, where you experience a gap between your previous thought and the next thought. This state of no mind bears a huge resemblance to what the buddhist texts refer to as the state of “enlightenment”.
Of course you will get lost in thoughts again and of course you will feel restless again, but the moment you start exploring the reason behind your restlessness, you realise that at the level of mind, a thought is just a thought. It’s not an emotion which can affect your mental state. Only by allowing mind to create narratives around the thought we tend to make it more than just a thought and before we realise, it snowballs into a huge strong emotion that takes us away from the present.
From this blog, we understand that we all have an idea of controlling our lives in some way and restlessness arises when there is a gap between the expectation and the reality. We create expectations from ourselves and if are unable to achieve them, we start to drift away from the present situation and in that effort, we tend to create friction by working against the flow of life which gives rise to restlessness. Restlessness can give rise to strong emotions and if we are not attentive enough, it can affect our mental well being. However, we can learn to subdue the effects of restlessness by observing our thoughts through meditation and similar tools.
I leave you with an informative video from Sadhguru, an Indian spiritual teacher. I hope you will benefit from it.
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About the author ….
This blog is written by Siddharth Mathur, Designated Partner at Lex Protector LLP. Siddharth is a intellectual property rights practitioner and a prolific blogger who writes on issues of mental health, mindfulness, art and culture.