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How to Watch Your Thoughts

How to Watch Your Thoughts

Have you ever wondered about “How to Watch your Thoughts?”

Thoughts pop into our heads all the time, and usually we don’t pay any special attention to them: they enter and leave our minds all on their own, just like a car that drives into our line of sight, remains in our field of vision for a few moments, and then drives along and passes out of our line of sight again.

But certain thoughts tend to attract our attention. They grab us, suck us in, and we get stuck on them. Often it is thoughts that have a particularly strong emotional pull to them that we having trouble letting go of and allowing to just pass by on their own. It’s like our emotions are an adhesive that make thoughts related to a particularly strong emotion stick in our mind, where they stay stuck and don’t go away no matter how hard we try.

The opposite of watching thoughts is to engage with them. We engage with thoughts by trying to understand them, respond to them, change them, judge them or react to them in any way. However, when we watch our thoughts, we simply notice that they are present in our mind, and just watch them as they come and go. We allow them to enter our minds and stay there for a while, and then let then go on their way.

There are a number of metaphors that describe this process of watching our thoughts, including the ones below:

Thoughts as Clouds: Whenever a thought enters your mind, imagine that it rests on a cloud that’s floating by. Don’t judge the thoughts, and don’t label them; simply observe them as they float through your mind. Don’t grab onto them or get caught up in thinking about them—just notice them.

Leaves Floating Down a Stream: Imagine a beautiful slow-moving stream. Once in a while, a big leaf drops into the stream and floats away down the river. Imagine you are sitting beside that stream on a warm, sunny day, watching the leaves float by. Now become conscious of your thoughts. Each time a thought pops into your head, imagine that it is written on one of those leaves.

The goal is to stay beside the stream and allow the leaves on the stream to keep flowing by. Don’t try to make the stream go faster or slower; don’t try to change what shows up on the leaves in any way. Just watch a thought come into your mind, write it on a leaf, and let the leaf float away downstream.

The next time you find yourself caught up in your thoughts, unable to stop ruminating or worrying or going over the same thoughts over and over again, see if you can’t try to step back a bit and watch your thoughts. Instead of engaging them, just let them go, allowing them to pass out of your mind just like a cloud passing through the sky or a leaf floating down a stream.

Pete C

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