Thoughts have power.
The power to sway our emotions, trigger physical sensations, compelling us to act in a certain way, such as quit our jobs, drop out of school, use aggression, numb out.
For example, we come home to find a messy place, and instantly have the thought “My husband messed up again!”
If we become gripped by that thought or believe it, our mood changes. All the positive qualities of your husband or the gratefulness to have a beautiful home are quickly forgotten.
Therefore mindfulness of thoughts and mind states involves paying attention to the thoughts that arise and observing them without needing to judge or take further action.
We are developing the capacity to see thoughts as just that, like emotions and weather patterns. Coming, going, merely products of the mind.
Some thoughts may be seasonal, some more sticky, leading us to understanding triggers, which reflect deep-seated attachments and aversion.
It is attachments/aversions, the need for things to be in a particular way e.g. “I must be rich”, “It’s her turn – she should take the trash out” that bring us to distress.
By practicing allowing things as they are, we do not need to be gripped by them, and can find our way forward more wisely.
This does not mean that we do not attempt to improve our circumstances. We are merely taking stock and working with how things are instead of against them which could be unnatural, unnecessarily uncomfortable or not aligned with our true values.
Look out for the assignment towards the end of the meditation guide.
Session 4, Mindfulness of Thoughts, where we are paying attention to words, voices, images, conversations that play and replay in the mind.
In this practice, we are not striving to be in a particular state of mind like calmness.
There is no failure or success in this practice.
We are merely observing and noting what comes to mind, and just allowing them to pass without further action.
So for example, if the mind says you should just abandon this practice and go get that cup of coffee, all you are needing to do is observing those thoughts and any impulses to act.
Finding a comfortable place for sitting.
Closing the eyes or keeping them open, as you wish.
Beginning by bringing your consciousness to breathing.
Becoming conscious of the sensations of breathing as the breath is entering and leaving the body.
While keeping the breath in awareness, dropping the attention down to the body, feeling the pull of gravity keeping it grounded securely on the seat.
Feeling the belly wall, feeling it rising at each in-breath, and collapsing at each out-breath.
Just breathing as what the body is calling to you.
Feeling the gentle rhythm of breathing.
It is very normal and natural for the mind to wonder.
While keeping the breath and body in awareness, simply observing thoughts as they arise.
Noticing the content.
Conversations to be had.
Things to do.
Judgments about yourself.
Or maybe about others – “If only she did this.”
Watching thoughts like a spectator sitting at a distance.
Not getting caught up in the drama.
If at any point it is feeling overwhelming focusing on thoughts and emotions, gently guiding the mind back to the breath and body.
And when you are ready, allowing yourself to noticing thoughts again while keeping the body in awareness.
Noticing the pace of thoughts arising.
Is it a running tape of a particular narrative?
Or sporadic, random thoughts, popping up?
Or perhaps a bit of both.
Noticing as these thoughts arise, what emotions accompany them?
And what sensations in the body are arising?
Bringing a sense of curiosity, beginner’s mind of feeling these sensations.
Even if they feel familiar.
Not needing to criticize yourself for having these feelings.
They may be welcoming, unwelcoming, or somewhere in between.
Merely observing, not needing to take further action.
It may feel tempting to stop this practice and get on with your life.
The invitation is to pause and staying here, as best as you can.
Remember there is an option of gently guiding the mind back to the breath and body if you are finding thoughts to be getting too much.
As you are continuing with this practice, noticing any particular, recurring patterns.
That are keeping coming, going and returning.
Making a mental note of them, with gentleness.
Now, guiding the mind back to the breath and body.
Feeling the landscape of the body mass.
In closing this practice, here is a poem “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives might be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Now taking a beautiful deep breath, and slowly allowing the eyes to open if they were closed.
Taking the time to observe your surroundings – shapes, colours, texture, sounds.
Now, here is an assignment that you can do after this practice on a daily basis.
Writing down the thoughts and judgments that were frequently replaying in the mind.
And asking yourself these four questions:
First: What were some frequent thoughts that had words, like “should”, “must”, “have to”, “always”?
Second: Do these thoughts lead you to more doing and doing, or perhaps lead you to avoiding and numbing out?
Third: How is this helpful for your quality of life?
A regular or daily practice could help us develop a greater awareness of what thoughts sour our moods and lead us further down the spiral of exhaustion, depression and anxiety.
With this wisdom, we are developing a greater appreciation that we don’t have to believe everything the mind says. Or create more space between us and our thoughts.
Thoughts are merely thoughts, nothing more.
Go well, thank you and tune in to Session 5 next Wednesday.
Guide: Noelle Lim
Image credit: Motoki Tonn, Unsplash
Listen to Session 3 at https://kindermind.center/2023/04/12/10-week-pause-session-3-mindfulness-of-emotions/