Observing Thoughts

Our thoughts can be like a whirlpool and take over our lives – generating fear, anxiety and depression. A single event may catalyse a “looping” of negative thoughts that become an endless cycle. I found this happening when I was recovering from the shock of my relative’s recent car accident. One way to steady your mind is to notice your thoughts and see them for what they are. Jon Kabat-Zinn offers a penetrating, 20-minute Guided Meditation on Observing Thoughts, and doing so non-judgmentally.

Thoughts feed on themselves

I found when reflecting on my relative’s car accident that I became preoccupied with what might have happened. Fortunately – despite rolling the car at 70 kph and ending up on a two lane, major road upside down – he suffered minor injuries, just bruising and soreness and no broken bones or head injuries. He was assessed as okay by Ambulance officers and cleared by the hospital after a 3 hour stay.

Despite this extremely fortunate outcome of the accident, my mind began to race – I could not stop thinking about what could have happened:

  • what if he had suffered a serious injury or died in the accident?
  • what if he had a passenger who was injured or killed?
  • what if people in other cars or pedestrians suffered also as a result of his accident?
  • what kind of police charge and consequences could he face if others were injured?
  • what would be the possible impact on the rest of his life?

These thoughts can become like a whirlpool or an endless loop. In the guided meditation mentioned above, Jon highlights how easily we fabricate thoughts, how readily they proliferate and how frequently they morph into other thoughts – taking us downstream in the flow of a strong, thought current.

Meditation to observe our thoughts non-judgmentally

Jon’s guided meditation on observing our thoughts is a gentle approach to raising our awareness, bringing our thoughts into focus and releasing them. He uses various metaphors to enable us to see our thoughts for what they are – clouds blowing by, bubbles floating to the surface of boiling water, ripples on a vast ocean or eddies in a stream. He encourages us not to entertain these thoughts but to observe them passing us by – avoiding any form of judgment or censure of ourselves.

The meditation leads to the ability to separate yourself from your thoughts and to “rest in awareness” – a place of calm, peace and equanimity. Liane Moriarty in her book, Nine Perfect Strangers, captures this sense of release in the thoughts expressed by one of her characters. The woman involved is one of the participants in a health retreat attended by nine people. Following periods of silence, meditation, mindful breathing, yoga and Tai Chi, she was able to observe:

At first, without the distraction of noise and conversation, Frances’s thoughts went around and around on a crazy, endless, repetitive loop…but the act of observing her looping thoughts seemed to slow them down until at last they came to a complete stop, and she’d found that for moments of time she thought…nothing. Nothing at all. Her mind was quite empty. And these moments were lovely. (p.200)

As we grow in mindfulness through practices such as meditation, Tai Chi, yoga and mindful breathing we can observe our thoughts, distance ourselves from them and the emotions they generate, and to see them as passing fabrications. We can free ourselves from the bonds of associated emotions such as fear, anxiety and depression, and experience tranquillity instead.

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Image by skeeze from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

Mindfulness for Life Challenges and Related Shock

I recently experienced a challenging event involving a relative, and both my wife and I were shocked by the unexpected turn of events. This led me to search for mindfulness resources on facing life challenges and related shock. My research turned up an article by Melli O’Brien, known fondly as Mrs. Mindfulness. Melli’s article is titled, How to Use Mindfulness in Times of Crisis and Challenge.

Melli shared her personal experience of challenge and shock resulting in a personal crisis for herself and her partner. In the space of one week, her partner’s uncle died, and his father suffered a life-threatening heart attack that resulted in many hours spent by Melli and her partner in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of a local hospital. Melli recounts how she used mindfulness to deal with this crisis in her life.  She describes how she drew on techniques learned through the Mindfulness Summit (for which she is a host, co-founder and speaker), as well as her daily mindfulness practice. Melli summarises these techniques in terms of five main mindfulness methods that she and her partner employed to deal with the life crisis that was confronting them.

Five mindfulness techniques for life challenges and shock

  1. The 3-Breath Hug – Melli mentioned that this technique was introduced during the Mindfulness Summit by Kristen Race. It basically entailed hugging each other for the equivalent of three breaths. Melli explained how this simple mindfulness practice enabled her and her partner to ground themselves and provide each other with support and love.  In my recent crisis, involving a relative who rolled their car at 70 kph, my wife and I spontaneously hugged each other and the relative in turn, to express our gratitude, support, understanding and empathy. This simple process can be incredibly grounding when you are awash with multiple emotions associated with shock.
  2. A mindful mantra to accept what is – Melli used the mantra, “This Too”, as a way to express acceptance of the reality of the present moment and to overcome resistance to “what is”. She explains that it is self-defeating to fight the emotions of fear, anxiety, and a sense of loss that accompany a life challenge and the associated shock. In a previous post I discussed Tara Brach’s approach to this acceptance in terms of saying “yes to what we are feeling now.
  3. Conscious breaths – Melli describes this as “one conscious breath” but mentions that it may involve more than one breath taken consciously. Conscious breathing is a mindfulness technique recommended when people are experiencing anxiety. It is often used at the beginning of a meditation as a way of being grounded.
  4. Creative connection – Melli refers to the session at the Mindfulness Summit conducted by Danny Penman who introduced “colouring in” as a daily practice to develop creativity along with mindfulness.  So Melli and her companions used the time in the waiting room at the hospital to create coloured pictures to relieve the emotional stress of waiting and to provide some colourful pictures for the hospital room of her partner’s father.
  5. Maintaining daily mindfulness practice – Melli was able to continue her daily mindfulness routine to nurture and nourish herself as the life challenges and stress tended to drain her energy.  As she points out, our typical response in times of acute stress is to stop our mindfulness practices, over-indulge in food and alcohol and generally seek ways to substitute pleasure for the pain of facing up to our emotions.

As we grow in mindfulness through various practices that help to ground us and give us renewed strength, we are better able to handle life challenges and related shock.  We can develop acceptance of the challenges and learn to live with the intense emotions involved.

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Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.