Have you ever noticed all of the strange thoughts that pop into your mind all day long? Some are pleasant, others not so much. Some are loving, some are not. Some are patient, some are not. Some are brief and some are frequent. It is easy to allot different values to each one- to praise myself for having a compassionate thought or scold myself for being impatient. And then to scold myself for having a negative thought following the scolding.
In the end each thought is only that- a thought. It is I who makes the ultimate decision whether or not to follow it with a behavior, to give power over to it by letting it consume me (by feeling bad for a while for having wished the person in line in front of me would make a quicker decision, for example). Then one might make the leap from thoughts to beliefs- because I had an impatient thought, I am an impatient person, and being impatient is “bad” so I am in the wrong.
This is when it is important to take a step back. Mindfully observing thoughts is like sitting back and watching the clouds pass, without judgment. No single thought, impulse, urge, or desire is who you are. I can let them come and go without getting caught up in them. I don’t need to cling to or ruminate on any of them. I can simply let them be, coming and going as they will (and they will).
I like to take note of particular thoughts and challenge them. When I feel the need to hurry, I challenge myself to move slowly and notice each small movement and ask myself what I am rushing away from. When I feel a strong desire to get off the phone, I challenge myself to listen to the person speaking and ask myself why it upsets me. When I feel angry that someone said something, I try to find forgiveness and ask if I have ever said something similar. Then forgive myself for what I said.
Sometimes a whole conversation will come and go and I will notice I missed what the person said. A whole drive home but I can’t remember what songs were on the radio. A whole day but I can’t remember what I did before work or what my boyfriend wore. Getting lost in our thoughts means that we are not fully experiencing the present moment. A whole day spent in worry and frustration over planning how I will get through all the tasks I have to do this month or what I forgot to do last month. We have this feeling of a vast past lying behind us and a vast future of things to do and see with just this tiny grain of sand we call the present moment separating the two. The truth is all we have is this vast, never ending, constantly fruitful moment called NOW.
Did you notice how the lathering soap felt on your hands or how sweet the squirrels chasing each other around a tree were today?
Christine is a TAC intern. She co-leads the Tuesday night ANAD support group.