It’s so easy to spend much of our lives wrapped up with, if not the prisoner, of what we think. Yet, after becoming aware that something is going on for you, that you are “caught up” in your thoughts, the crucial next stage is to be able to “step back” from the content of your mind. This is a very important shift in awareness and it underlines a vital aspect of mindfulness, that you can control what you focus on and that you are not your thoughts. Put another way, thoughts are not facts; they are simply thoughts in your field of awareness.
Mindfulness and thoughts
We’re usually unconsciously full of thoughts, one following another, and their accompanying feelings. It can seem that that is just how things are, and it can follow that we can be prey to all sorts of uncomfortable thoughts if things aren’t going so well. You might of course try to make a big effort to suppress them, but they can have a knack of springing back, particularly if they’ve hit a raw nerve. A lot of this is unconscious or habitual: we’ve usually thought in particular ways, and have probably done so for eons. It can be compulsive. Thus we tend to say we get “caught up” in particular content, particular lines of thought.
With mindfulness, we “step back”, pause the mental stream and notice something’s happening, and detach ourselves from being “caught up” in it. This is not a closed off, batten down the hatches, big effort of control stuff, this is simply becoming aware and releasing ourselves from what we’re thinking. In a sense we might still be thinking it, but part of us, what some call an “aware self”, notices that this is what’s going on. Using intention, the act of will, we become aware of ourselves thinking it, whatever “it” is.
And it isn’t us. We aren’t our thoughts. We’re so much more than these thoughts. These thoughts aren’t real. They aren’t facts. They are simply thoughts, which come and go, like clouds in a blue sky. With mindfulness, we seek to train ourselves to make this vital distinction.
It takes practice. People sometimes need to learn how to make this distinction with mindfuless and thoughts, and to see where in their lives this is habitual, and how this unuseful thinking crops up and messes things up for them.
Once people start to get this skill, they discover a hugely powerful tool that can transform their lives. You can learn more about all this with our very useful free e-course, to the top left of this blog post that you are reading.