Do you ever get stuck mulling over an idea, imagining all the different ways it could play out, or replaying a conversation and thinking of all the ways you could have responded better? Or when you think about a person (or even yourself), do you sometimes get stuck dwelling on something they did wrong, rather than the 95% of things they do right?
Sometimes when I find myself doing this, it almost feels as if I’m not in control of my own thinking. I get so focused on that one thing that I become almost mesmerized by it. I just keep turning it over and over, ruminating on it.
“Rumination” is a term used to describe the eating process of cows and other ruminant animals, including sheep, goats, deer, elk, buffalo, giraffes, and camels. These animals have four stomach compartments and can store food so they can come back to it later to chew on it again, which is called chewing the cud.
This is what we do, figuratively speaking, with thoughts or ideas when we ruminate on them. They come back to us over and over to keep chewing on, or wrestling with. Constructive thoughtfulness is a good thing, of course. But when it becomes something more extreme, how do we stop unhelpful cycles of rumination?
I have found a couple of ideas helpful in these situations. One has to do with a particular way to think about God. “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, provides several synonyms for Deity that find their basis in the Bible. One of them is Mind – divine Mind. Both the Old and New Testaments share accounts of God as all-knowing, wise, possessing infinite understanding, and having good counsel and righteous judgment or discernment. (See, for instance, Isaiah 40:13, 14; Psalms 147:4, 5; and Romans 11:33, 34.)
The idea that God is infinite, all-knowing Mind, possessing wisdom and knowledge of all that is good and true, and governing all by His wisdom and goodness, has direct relevance for us. The first chapter of the Bible explains that we are created in God’s image and likeness. As God’s spiritual reflection, we express that infinite Mind. This means that understanding is a quality inherent in the true, spiritual nature of each of us. So when we’re looking for answers, we can listen for divine guidance and let the all-knowing Mind calm our thought.
It can seem hard to listen when our mind is spinning in circles of rumination. But I like the example of Jesus responding to the fears of his disciples when he was out on a boat with them in a raging storm (see Matthew 8:23-27). From the vantage point of his spiritual understanding of God, Mind, the Bible says Jesus “rebuked the winds and the sea” with an authority that stilled the wind and waves and calmed the thoughts of his disciples.
This profound example of expressing divine authority reminds me that storms of thought within us can be stilled. God governs His creation with love and only ever wants peace for us, as this Bible passage conveys: “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil [or fear, doubt, or rumination], to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, New King James Version). As the expression of God’s love and goodness, we can and do experience and express that divine peace.
Psalm 46 counsels, “Be still, and know that I am God” (verse 10). Even when mental tumult seems overwhelming, we can take a moment to turn wholeheartedly to God to still our thought. The infinite, divine Mind is always peaceful and has just the inspiration we need at every moment. I’ve found that a willingness to let the divine Mind guide us tends to break the cycle of rumination, leaving me free to think clearly and to be receptive to new ideas and a fresh perspective. And we can trust that God’s answers – which come with clarity and calm – will benefit us and those involved in whatever the situation may be.
So, next time you’re caught up in mulling over some thought again and again, remember: We can leave the ruminating to the cows, and let God help us feel the clarity and true peace of Mind.