Nearly 50,000 thoughts barrage your mind daily, inundating you with a flood of feelings and emotions: thinking, musing, fantasizing, planning, anticipating, worrying, liking, disliking, remembering, forgetting, evaluating, reacting, story telling and fabricating reality to conveniently fit your own truth. You are doing this all day, every day, nonstop mental commentary. Even more remarkable, 98% of these are repetitive thought patterns – the same thoughts you had an hour ago, this morning and even yesterday! Your mind is whirling like a Merry Go Round, constantly spinning and often returning to the same thought repeatedly, over and over again on a loop. For example, I had to catch a flight home one evening from San Francisco and over the course of that day, thought about what time I need to leave to the airport 22 separate times. The answer was easy and confirmed the first time I thought about it so was all that incessant thinking necessary?
You may think you are aware, and even in control, of all this activity buzzing in your head but because you are immersed in your thoughts, you most likely are not aware of the sheer volume. The majority of these thoughts are random and future-oriented, like what shall I have for lunch or what should I wear tonight that float in and out of consciousness like puffy clouds in a blue skyline. But many thoughts carry gravitas laced with fear, anxiety, anger and guilt as we dwell in the past or contemplate action in the future. Anxiety can be paralyzing, as if we keep texting ourselves: start worrying, details to follow. Feelings like rage can relentlessly fuel us as we replay over and over what X said last night or last month or last year (!), simultaneously fantasizing how we are going to get sweet revenge. Our mind is on an endless loop, toggling a delicate dance between past and future as we fixate on X. It’s a crazy cocktail of secrets and story telling, dark thoughts and trivia, all mixed up like a fraternity punch bowl. It is virtually impossible to fathom the infinite realm of activity in our wildly uncontrollable minds.
But we manage, quite extraordinarily, to survive the day. Our thoughts often exit as quickly as they enter through the revolving door called our mind, sometimes resolving itself simply by the passage of time (we ate lunch, we wore a blue shirt, X moved away). The Merry Go Round keeps spinning incessantly, perhaps until lunch time again tomorrow and the identical thought resurfaces. But on heavier thoughts – those dark clouds that roll in threatening thunder & lightning and seem to linger forever – we may attach to them and immerse ourselves in the negative energy. These harmful thoughts include fear, anger, jealousy, rage, guilt and/or anxiety towards someone or something. Our mind can stubbornly cling to these emotions, often unbeknownst to us, causing major tension and stress in our lives. The intensity of this negative mental commentary often has emotional triggers which take an immense toll on our mind. This often manifests into physical pain, as we suppress it into our body.
But we have a secret weapon: Mindfulness. This is the quality of awareness that recognizes exactly what is happening in our moment-to-moment experience. By paying attention in a proactive way, with intention but without judgment, we have the ability to simply observe this phenomenon. With present moment awareness, we mindfully watch this cascade of thoughts that never stop. We just watch as they unfold without trying to repress or manage them in any way. We notice they arise and often quickly evaporate like puffy clouds passing through a vast sky. If we can create some space, some separation, to casually observe without attaching to them; if we can make room without taking ownership of them, we can ultimately see the thoughts for just what they are…thoughts! You are not your thoughts and the stories and ideas they foster often disappear just as quickly as they appeared. Recognizing this can offer enormous benefits of calm and peace as it dissipates the intensity and emotional flavor we often attach to.
With Mindfulness practice, we can develop an approach to change our relationship to our thoughts by choosing not to cling to negative emotions – those dark clouds – and simply take notice of all the harmless, trivial thoughts without action. These clouds (thoughts) float in the foreground in the vast background of your mind. Viewing from this perspective, we can learn to let go, which is incredibly empowering and can literally change the fabric of each day. Just by being, with awareness and on purpose, we discover beautiful depths of clarity and tranquility. Try to relax back to where you notice them from.
As the inevitable Merry Go Round of thoughts spin round and round each day in our lives, bringing Mindfulness to them can raise awareness. We can let the proverbial horses run free rather than attaching, chasing, and joining them swirling in a vicious circle. By simply being present in the moment and observing non-judgmentally, Mindfulness gives us the ability to watch the Merry Go Round from a comfortable distance in our mind and avoid getting immersed in the endless loop.