It’s 1 AM. You’re lying in bed, unable to sleep. Your body is still, yet your mind is racing with the stress from an overhanging problem in your life. You try to swat away those pestering thoughts like a flea, but you just can’t seem to put your mind at ease

In the weeks leading up to vacation, I had begun to lock and load on three or four topics as they came up. Instead of releasing thoughts that came into my head, I would hold onto one or two and constantly think about them until I was confused and frustrated. To someone that values awareness and has been on a personal spiritual journey, this was surprising: I wasn’t even aware that I was doing it.

What is meant by practicing awareness? It is different for everyone based on his or her personal journey. For me, I need to watch how I respond to those who push my buttons. This is one of the things that I spend a lot of time on with my clients. In this way, it is becoming aware of destructive patterns in our lives and releasing the negative responses that we have. This is not reacting, but rather taking a moment to identify our feelings and mute the antagonistic echoes of our past.

For example, if you are a big Penn State fan and a coworker hates Penn State, you might be triggered into smarmy behavior by that coworker making a comment about pedophiles in sports. A well-dressed, attractive woman might be provoked by a comment about her looks from a man gawking at her and staring at her breasts. Thus, it is not necessarily what is said, but how and by whom it is said that could be the stimulant

These triggers often take us into earlier forms of consciousness that cause us to act like victims or lash out at our verbal attackers. But there are other self-destructive behavior patterns.

They say old habits die hard. Frustrating myself by trying to solve the unsolvable is one of my tendencies. These so-called problems are what has driven the psychotherapy industry for years, and made Oprah and Dr. Phil millionaires.  Why am I so remedial in my approach to life?  Why do I keep making the same mistakes?  Is it because I fixate on the same thoughts?

Sometimes we need to just let go and free ourselves from the prison of negative thoughts. We all have issues that we revisit time and again as we live our lives. For example, the notion that a “man” cannot be an artist was bestowed upon me as far back as I can remember. As a boy that wanted to channel his artistic side, this left me with gender angst and fear of chasing that dream. Coupled with that toxic thought pattern was, “You are just like your mother; you never finish anything.” At the time, this complete discouragement sank my artistic ambition like the Titanic.

The scar of abandonment never faded after my mom died when I was eleven. I developed a fear of desertion that formed the perfect storm as last year ended and this year began. I regressed to past ways of life and tossed away everything I had learned.

In this last year, my wife was undergoing treatment for breast cancer and activating that distress within me. I took on the role of caregiver in our family. I was launching a coaching practice, which is not art, but a largely feminized industry. As a result, I found myself triggered by these old thinking patterns. Once that happens, it can be hard to turn back.

So what do you do? Meditate. Ask the questions and live the answers. The answers come to us though moments of synchronicity, not out of our own heads. Others bring them to us. We do not have to find our own answers; they will find us. But we have to be open to allowing that to happen.

This is particularly important for people in giving professions. People in these roles are expected to have the answers. We don’t have answers; we know what questions to ask others to enable them to seek their own solutions. But we do not have to be asking ourselves questions all of the time. It is okay to just be, and to dream. For me, however, I must be careful to not dream the impossible dream. Because for me, anything that I see as impossible, becomes a challenge to be solved by my egoic mind.

While all things are possible, some dreams have a higher return than others and take less effort. We transform the world one person at a time. I have to remember that that means that I transform myself one thought at a time. I can choose to let thoughts go. With fifty thousand a day, why hold on to one fifty thousand times. The next thought could be an idea that cures cancer.